Euro 2016

Ronaldo saves Portugal again

 Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 groupmatch between Hungary and Portugal in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon, on June 22, 2016.
Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 groupmatch between Hungary and Portugal in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon, on June 22, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

But his team must find their identity quickly if they are to beat Croatia and reach q-finals

LYON • "We draw together, we miss penalties together, today we win together," said the banner high up in the stands before kick-off.

Even as he evolves into more and more of a penalty-area predator, such thinking is anathema to Cristiano Ronaldo.

On Wednesday, he embraced his habitual position for Portugal, of carrying the load single-handedly when others shrink, ensuring his jittery team did the necessary by scraping a thrilling 3-3 draw against Bernd Storck's lively Hungary.

So it is the Hungarians, the outsiders, who won Group F, and deservedly so, after a mercurial game befitting the suddenly scorching heat in Lyon.

Yet Ronaldo's top billing is equally merited after his two-goal salvo. One game after setting a new appearance record for Portugal, beating Luis Figo's tally of 127, Ronaldo became the first player to score in four European Championships.

He also set a tournament appearance record of 17, a tribute to the fact that his brilliance is more than paralleled by his incredible perseverance.

"A forward like Cristiano without goals feels like he hasn't had anything to eat," said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.

Ronaldo never takes no for an answer, which is fortunate. As Santos admitted: "We were on the way home three times."

Ronaldo was reprising his role as the frustrated figure of Portugal's opening two matches, limited to a couple of those familiar free-kick pot shots; one pushed away comfortably enough by Gabor Kiraly, the other looping harmlessly over the goalkeeper's crossbar.

Yet he found a way, the 31-year-old saving his nation with his brace. His first goal came in the 50th minute to bring Portugal level at 2-2 in the Stade de Lyon and he powered home his second to level at 3-3 with just under half an hour left.

"This is what Cristiano is all about, because he's a winner and a scorer, he feeds on goals," said Santos.

"This will have increased his confidence levels. He's a confident player anyway, but this will have boosted him for the next game against Croatia."

Portugal must now raise their game against a team he had not wanted to play.

"Croatia are one of the sharks, we had been trying to avoid them," admitted the Portugal boss. "They placed first in a group with Spain, which tells you all you need to know about them."

Ronaldo added that it was an "insane" match as Portugal had to equalise three times in sweltering conditions.

"We had to chase down the match. It was very hot, but the main goal was to qualify," he said. "Of course, we wanted to win and qualify in first place, but the main thing is we're through."

Portugal progressed in third place after Iceland's last-gasp 2-1 win against Austria but like England, whom they would be facing if it were not for that goal, they must find their own identity quickly.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Ronaldo saves Portugal again'. Print Edition | Subscribe