It was one of those nights. The kind of night that Cristiano Ronaldo owns and has owned throughout his career: the big occasion, the floodlights, the star studded field, the high stakes, the delivery obligation, the pressure and the suspense.
It was Portugal against France, in the heat of Budapest, and Portugal threatened to be eliminated from Euro 2020. Ronaldo was just two goals behind Ali Daei’s record for the most goals in international men’s football: 107 to 1,097.
And it was another night that the four-time Ballon d’Or winner actually delivered.
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His two goals – both from the penalty spot and the first one he ever scored against Les Bleus in his seventh game against them – Portugal qualified for the round of 16, where they face Belgium in Seville on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, watch live on ABC). Even more impressive, however, is that he has reached another milestone, another incredible feat: 109 goals in 178 games for Portugal.
He’s relentless, a machine. The record, which seemed unattainable since it was set in 2006, will now be Ronaldo’s sooner rather than later. Maybe before the end of this tournament, where he’s already the top scorer with five goals in three games. Or maybe when World Cup qualification resumes in September.
For now, however, he has further cemented his status as one of the greatest of all time and as Portugal’s savior. He saved her in that 2-2 draw, just as he did a million times before, in a night of drama and controversy.
His game wasn’t perfect, however – far from it. He misjudged a great chance for a header in the first half; he was seldom served properly; and apart from his two penalties, he only had one more shot on target. But he will never forget this day, the day when his legend became even bigger.
There will always be a debate about the fact that only 13 of his 109 goals were scored against France, Germany, England, Italy, Spain, Belgium or the Netherlands; which means that much more was scored against (much) smaller teams. He won’t care, and neither should you. The numbers are extraordinary, as are his longevity, drive and ambition. It’s far from finished. But Portugal and Ronaldo will need more in the knockout rounds than they showed in the group stage if they are to keep their title.
Oddly enough, Ronaldo wasn’t voted Man of the Game. Instead, the award was given to the man he swapped jersey with at halftime: Karim Benzema. Without Ronaldo, who would have rewritten history, this would have been Benzema night. To be fair, the Frenchman is probably very excited to share it with his former Real Madrid team-mate, whose brace didn’t spoil his evening.
On Wednesday, Ronaldo and Benzema actually met for the first time in the same game as opponents; They scored 81 times in the same game as Madrid’s team-mates. They also supported each other 19 times in each other’s goals (11 times Benzema against Ronaldo, eight times in reverse).
France has its own reasons to be happy. Benzema’s first goals since he was recalled by Didier Deschamps have been taken off his shoulders. He will be full of confidence and play with freedom. If you were the Swiss defense against the French in Bucharest on Monday (3:00 p.m. ET, livestream on ESPN), You should be concerned.
“Of course I’ve been waiting for these goals,” said Benzema on French television after the game. “There’s a lot of pressure around me. I didn’t doubt it, but I can feel such an expectation from all over the country, which is normal after five or six years of waiting. Partying with the fans warmed my heart and I hope that it is there. ” there will be many more nights like this. “
On Zinedine Zidane’s birthday, Benzema overtook him as the oldest player to score a brace for France at the European Championships (33 years and 186 days versus 31 years and 356 days).
Les Bleus took control of the game in the second half, and without Rui Patricio’s exquisite save against Paul Pogba’s nasty long-range shot and another penalty, which was saved in the penalty area despite Bruno Fernandes’ foul on Kingsley Coman, the world champions would easily have all three points behind Can take home. They were once again the dominant force that won the World Cup in Russia three years ago and are the favorites again this year.
Pogba was great once again and with another impressive performance established himself even more as the leader of this team. He and N’Golo Kante are still unbeaten when they start together for France. There are now 29 games and still no one has managed to beat them.
However, Deschamps will regret the two mistakes that gave Portugal two goals.
“We had to fight hard,” he said after the game. “We gave them two goals in two penalties and made it difficult for us. But we are at the top of our group, which is the best position. Now a new competition is starting.”
On Wednesday in Budapest, we were reminded that two things are certain in football: Ronaldo will never stop scoring goals and France will always be group best in major competitions under Deschamps – now a perfect four to four.