HE may be the grand old age of 39 now and approaching the end of what has been an utterly remarkable career.

And he might have been helpless to prevent Portugal from losing to France on penalties in their Euro 2024 quarter-final in Hamburg in Germany on Friday night and crashing out of the competition.

Yet, Liam Scales still found squaring up to all-time football great Cristiano Ronaldo in a friendly international last month to be nothing short of a “nightmare”.

And the centre half is convinced the experience of playing in direct opposition to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will prove invaluable to him when Celtic return to the Champions League this September.

Scales established himself as a first team regular at Parkhead last season, played against Atletico Madrid, Feyenoord and Lazio in Europe and helped the Glasgow club to complete a Premiership and Scottish Cup double.

(Image: SNS) But the defender was given a sobering reality check about the standards he has to attain if he is to nullify the threat posed by icons of the global game when the Republic of Ireland took on Portugal in Aveiro in the second week in June.

His country had defeated Hungary – who would go on to knock Scotland out of the Euros with a 1-0 win in Stuttgart three weeks later – by a 2-1 scoreline at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin seven days earlier thanks to a first-half Adam Idah header and a last-minute Troy Parrot strike.

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However, John O’Shea’s men ended up on the receiving end of a 3-0 loss in their encounter with Roberto Martinez’s charges - after Ronaldo netted a double in the space of 11 second-half minutes to take his haul of international goals to 130. 

Scales now realises that the difference between success and failure can be just millimetres when he is competing with the best players on the planet - and understands that he still has improvements to make in his game if he is to excel against world-class rivals after going toe-to-toe with “CR7” for 90 minutes. 

“That was a tough night against Portugal and Ronaldo,” he said as he prepared for the pre-season friendly against Queen’s Park at The City Stadium tomorrow evening. “It was almost humbling playing against them.

“I went into the game thinking, ‘I’ve got experience in the Champions League, I’ll be well able’. I felt like I could play against them. But the whole Portugal team were brilliant, not just Ronaldo.

“It was their farewell match before the Euros and it was our last game before going on a break. You are already expecting that they will be right at it and they were. Ronaldo was quality. It was just his game intelligence that stood out, along with the goals he scored.

“For the first one, I thought I had the shot blocked and it has gone a millimetre over my foot and right into the one place where he could score. It was so clinical, so sharp and it sort of shows the levels you need to get to.

“It was humbling in a really good way because it’s made me hungry to go improve and be more comfortable at that level, playing against guys like Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. Their movement and quality on the ball were really good.

“I have played against good players and teams in the Champions League, but you just felt they were in sync. I was surprised they didn’t blow teams away at the Euros.”

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He continued: “That experience has definitely made me hungrier and it’s shown I need to work harder. I went into that game thinking it would be a good challenge, but it was a level above what I have played against before. So it showed me that there are levels to go up.

“I think I will be better placed to play against these guys having had that experience. It comes down to the fine margins when you face players of that level.

(Image: PA) “At Ronaldo’s first goal, another player would have taken that shot and I would have blocked it because my foot was there. But he looks for perfection and puts it right into the top corner, out of my reach and the keeper’s reach.

“Next time I play against quality like that, I will know that you can’t even give them that tiny margin. You have to be almost perfect against them. Ronaldo’s movement in the box is up there with the best ever.

“For his second goal against us, the ball came in from our right and he has sprinted towards goal, so I have dropped into the six-yard box. He has then stopped dead and that has created space for the player to find him with cutback.

“For a left-footed first-time finish, it was quality. But it was the movement before it that stood out. The split-second, start-stop double movements were unbelievable. He is the best I have ever played against movement wise and he was always looking to threaten off your shoulder too. It was a nightmare to deal with it.”

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Scales admitted he is looking forward to being involved in the Champions Lague “league phase” and expressed hope the new format – teams will play eight games against eight different opponents, not six matches against three rival clubs home and away – will enable Celtic to make an impression against the cream of the continent.

“Getting the two extra games in the groups and playing against two different teams every time is going to bring loads of different experiences,” he said. “Just to have two extra games in the tournament is brilliant.

“Those are the things you look back on in the end and remember fondly. It gives us more chances to win games. We are hungry to kick on and get more points.

“It is hard to tell (if the change to the Swiss model will help Celtic). But I think so, yeah. It probably is because you are playing two from pot four and two from pot three. But they are still going to be challenging games.

“We won’t really know until next year when we have played a year of it. It will be interesting. I am looking forward to it.”