Thursday 23 November 2017

Ronaldo rides to the rescue to save Portugal

Hungary 3 Portugal 3

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring for Portugal against Hungary. Photo: Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring for Portugal against Hungary. Photo: Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images

Glenn Moore

It says a lot about Cristiano Ronaldo at the moment that he could find the net twice, set up another goal, become the first player to score in four European Championship finals, win the man-of-the-match award and almost single-handedly drag Portugal into last 16 yet still end the day looking a little silly.

By the closing stages of a madcap afternoon in the sweltering heat of Lyon, Ronaldo and Portugal looked to be heading for another meeting with England in the knockout stage of a major tournament after coming back three times against Hungary.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their third goal
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their third goal

Then Iceland, the team Ronaldo had claimed had a "small mentality" and were "not going to do anything in the competition", popped up to score a stoppage-time winner against Austria to relegate Portugal to third place in Group F and leave the Real Madrid forward and his compatriots instead to negotiate a trickier-looking tie against Croatia in Lens on Saturday.

It means two days' less rest for Portugal and spares England a reunion with 'The Winker', although after watching a gung-ho Portugal make a complete hash of it at the back against the Hungarians, Roy Hodgson might have mixed feelings about facing Iceland's defensive block instead.

Ronaldo had taken exception to that when Portugal - who eliminated England on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 and the World Cup finals two years later, when Ronaldo infamously winked at the bench when Wayne Rooney was sent off in Gelsenkirchen - faced the Nordic nation in St-Etienne in their opening match, decrying their perceived negative tactics.

So it was perhaps no surprise as a consequence to see him duck out of a press conference last night before any reporter could follow up an innocuous solitary question from a UEFA delegate.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo in action with Hungary's Adam Lang. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo in action with Hungary's Adam Lang. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Ronaldo did hang around long enough to admit that Portugal had achieved "the bottom line" by qualifying third and were, for long spells, "in dire straits" chasing what he described as an "insane game".

"They attacked, we attacked, there were many goals, it was very hot," he said.


"Three times we had to chase down the scoreboard and equalise and now we are facing a great team in the next round and have to win."

It was a brilliant game, in a basket case type of way. Breathless, bewitching, the entertainment factor ramped up by two hopeless defences.

Three times Hungary led, three times Portugal came back, Ronaldo teeing up Nani for the initial equaliser to cancel out Zoltan Gera's early strike before two sensational finishes ruined Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak's hopes of being the match-winner.

Hungary look so ungainly, so workmanlike that Portugal must have thought they would steam-roller them, especially as Bernd Storck made four changes with qualification already assured. Indeed, Hungary's rather amateurish appearance is embodied by veteran goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, who looks more like a portly pub landlord these days but is still wearing dodgy grey tracksuit, even though it was freakishly hot.

But appearances can be deceptive and it was Portugal's defence who were open to ridicule as Hungary cut through them with alarming ease en route to finishing as group winners.

Ronaldo's day had started with him throwing a reporter's microphone into a lake but the questions were soon stacking up and, for a good while, the best European footballer of his generation seemed in danger of being upstaged by his opposite number, Dzsudzsak. Portugal trailed after just 19 minutes. Ronaldo succeeded only in clearing Dzsudzsak's corner as far as Gera.

The former West Brom midfielder controlled the ball on his chest before rifling a 25-yard bullet into the bottom corner.

Portugal fell to pieces every time Hungary attacked and it was against the run of play that they equalised shortly before half-time.

Ronaldo threaded a wonderful through ball to Nani, whose first time shot beat Kiraly at the near post.

Ronaldo had already flunked three free-kicks by the time Dzsudzsak stepped up within two minutes of the restart to show the Portuguese how to do it, his free-kick deflecting off Andre Gomes' shoulder and past a wrong-footed Rui Patricio.

Hungary's lead lasted only three minutes when Ronaldo finally ended his wait for his first goal at this tournament, nonchalantly steering Joao Mario's cross into the bottom corner with an electrifying back-heeled flick.

And when Dzudzakck put Hungary back in front five minutes later with another deflected shot, it was Ronaldo again who came up with the response, meeting Ricardo Quaresma's cross with a brilliant header.

It was, though, a bittersweet night for him. Iceland made sure of that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Hero laps it up after 'insane game'

Cristiano Ronaldo said he had to "chase down the scoreboard" in "an insane game" as he rediscovered his scoring touch to break yet more records and keep Portugal at Euro 2016.

Ronaldo's two goals made him the first player to score in four different European Championship finals, while also breaking the record for most appearances in the finals - 17.

"We played good match," he said. "It was an insane game. They attacked, we attacked. There were many goals. It was very hot. I am happy because the team was in dire straits - three times we had to chase down the scoreboard and equalise.

"Our priority was to win the match and finish first. We failed to do that but we met the bottom line because we wanted to qualify.

Of his records he said, "that comes naturally", which may not have been meant as arrogantly as it reads.

"This is what Cristiano is all about," said Portuguese coach Fernando Santos. "He needs to score because he is a winner and a scorer, he feeds on goals. He is a confident player but this will increase his confidence levels further for the next match."

Hungary's Bernd Storck said: "You cannot always keep him quiet. He is a world class player. He could have scored in their other games."

Storck was delighted to take Hungary into the knock-out stages in their first tournament in 30 years but said of comparison to the great Hungarian teams of the past, "of course we have a great history, but this team deserves to be talked about for themselves."

Santos was less appreciative. Though congratulating Hungary he said: "They scored three lucky goals. I would like to praise my players because three times we were out due to shots that were pure luck and that can bring anyone down."

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