Ageless Ronaldo racking up records

Portugal coach Santos lauds veterans like Cristiano, 36, saying 'quality is what counts'

FARO • Cristiano Ronaldo scoring goals for Portugal has become such a common affair that coach Fernando Santos preferred to focus on the age of his squad after their 5-0 World Cup qualifying home win over Luxembourg on Tuesday.

A 58th career hat-trick from the Manchester United forward helped Portugal stroll to their victory in Group A, ensuring they remain a point behind leaders Serbia, who moved onto 17 points with a 3-1 home win over Azerbaijan but have played a game more.

The treble, which meant Ronaldo became the first man to net 10 international hat-tricks, takes his tally to 115 international goals from 182 caps as he continues to pull away as the top men's international goalscorer of all time.

However, Santos quashed suggestions that his veterans, including the 36-year-old Ronaldo, were likely to let him down again, after exiting both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 at the last-16 stage.

"I hear a lot about it (the age of the squad), I even understand, but wanting more changes than what we have done over the past six years are difficult," Santos said.

"Just look at who was at the World Cup, the European Championship and who is playing now. There are no age restrictions.

"Players do not have to stop playing for the national team because they are of more or less age, quality is what counts.

"Fortunately, we have a lot of 30-year-old or 31-year-old players able to get here and play and the players have shown that."

Besides Ronaldo, 38-year-old defender Pepe and 35-year-old midfielder Joao Moutinho are two notable senior players who started the game, with the average age of the starting line-up at 28.8.

In comparison, the average age of Germany's first XI under new coach Hansi Flick was 26.5 when they beat North Macedonia 4-0 on Monday to become the first team besides hosts Qatar to qualify for next year's World Cup.

But, as Santos strongly believes, age did not matter for Portugal on Tuesday as they had the game all but won within the first 18 minutes.

Ronaldo struck twice from the penalty spot before his United teammate Bruno Fernandes made it three as he fired in following good work from Bernardo Silva.

Ronaldo then missed two gilt-edged chances either side of the break as he sought a third, before being denied a hat-trick goal when Anthony Moris kept out his acrobatic overhead kick.

Portugal did not have to wait long for their fourth, however, as midfielder Joao Palhinha headed in with just over 20 minutes to go.

However, Ronaldo was not to be denied as the hosts pushed on, netting three minutes from time with a header from close range.

"We managed to restrain the opponent and take advantage of every situation to transform them into goal-scoring opportunities," said a pleased Santos.

Portugal travel to Ireland next month before hosting Serbia in what could be a winner-takes-all fixture to qualify for the Qatar World Cup.

"The last game will be decisive, whatever happens in the next round, neither team will be out, although I believe we will win (against Ireland)," the coach added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline 'Ageless Ronaldo racking up records'. Subscribe