Record-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo says Portugal “believed they could win until the end” after his two late goals saw off the Republic of Ireland.
The forward, who returned to Manchester United in a surprise move earlier this week, became the all-time leading scorer in men’s international football, overtaking Iranian Ali Daei’s record.
He nodded home twice in the dying minutes of the World Cup Qualifier at the Estadio Algarve, taking him to 111 goals for Portugal – two ahead of the previous record.
The victory was a late blow for an improved Republic of Ireland, but Ronaldo had faith that Portugal could take all three points.
He said: “I’m so happy, not only because I beat the record, but for the special moments that we had. Two goals at the end of the game, it was so tough but I have to appreciate what the team did. We believed until the end, the supporters too. I’m so glad.”
It looked to be a frustrating evening for the 36-year-old, with Ronaldo having an early penalty saved by 19-year-old Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.
Of the incident, Ronaldo added: “It’s part of the game, it’s part of the business. Sometimes you score, sometimes there’s a mistake but I still believe until the end of the game. I’m so happy to score and win the game.”
He later posted on Instagram: “From all the records that I have broken during my career – and fortunately there have been a few – this one is very special for me and it’s certainly on the shelf of the achievements that make me truly proud.
“First of all, because every time I represent my country is a special moment, for knowing that I’m defending Portugal and showing to the world what Portuguese people are made of.
“Secondly, because national teams competitions have always had a very strong impact on me as I was growing up, watching my idols playing for their flags every other summer in Euros and in World Cups.
“But finally and above all, because scoring 111 goals for Portugal means 111 moments like the ones we experienced today in Algarve, moments of worldwide union and happiness for millions and millions of Portuguese citizens all around the globe. For them, every sacrifice is worth it.
“Another reason for me to appreciate this achievement as much as I do right now, is because Ali Daei has set the standards in such a high level that at some point, even I started thinking that I might never catch him.
“Congratulations to the ‘Shariar’ for holding the record for so long and thanks for always showing so much respect for me every time I scored and as I became closer and closer to his outstanding number.
“Thank you Portugal. Thanks to all my team-mates and opponents for making this journey so unforgettable. Let’s keep meeting inside the pitch in the years to come. I’m not closing the count just yet…”
What was said about Ronaldo
Phil Babb on Sky Sports: “It’s a strange one, because he was quiet for 89 minutes. Ireland had done well in frustrating him and when they were crossing the balls in, I thought Duffy and Egan were very good. He didn’t really have an impact on the game until the goals.
“But put that aside – cometh the hour, cometh the man. Yet again, he produces and literally drags his side to victory.
“It’s one of those debates but for me, he is the greatest of all time… When he broke into the Sporting squad, he was a skinny man and to develop into that supreme athlete and one of the greatest of all time has been a phenomenal journey.
Richard Dunne on Sky Sports: “It’s incredible. It’s what makes him different to every other footballer in the world. He has that ability to hang. As the ball is coming across, you’re thinking ‘how can the players defend when the player they’re marking is already up in the air?’. It’s so difficult.
“Then the header, the direction and everything about it is fantastic. It’s down to how he looks after himself and the strength he has in his core to be able to hang and put such power on the ball.
“It’s almost unrealistic [the goals tally], it’s frightening. To be able to just be in the right place at the right time is just incredible. The game was never over because they’ve got Ronaldo, there’s always that opportunity he’ll pop up.
“In that moment, Portugal needed him. They didn’t look like they were going to do anything and just out of nowhere, he turned up and broke our hearts.”
Republic of Ireland defender John Egan told Sky Sports: “He’s a top player, one of the best ever. We contained him quite well for most of the game, but we gave him two chances at the death and he doesn’t miss chances like that. Sometimes world-class players punish you and we got punished tonight.”
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny told Sky Sports: “He’s a phenomenon. You can’t take it away, you have to say he’s even proved that tonight at 36. He’s been incredible to get two goals.”
Portugal manager Fernando Santos: “Obviously, we are all pleased with his record. There is no Portuguese person who is not pleased to see him as the top scorer of international goals ever.
“But that would happen at some point. I don’t see that Cristiano wouldn’t score a goal in the five, six, 10 or 15 games he is still to play. How wouldn’t he break the record? He had equalled the record, so it wasn’t the case of needing another eight, nine or 10 goals we could doubt if he would get there. But one goal? If it wasn’t today, it would be in any other one.”
Ronaldo vs Daei: The stats
Ronaldo’s first 50 international goals came in 114 caps, but since then he has hit 61 in 66 which saw him chalk up a second half-century at a goal a game. Daei took 149 games to reach the previous record of 109.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino in a message to Ronaldo: “This achievement rewards an outstanding career of almost two decades representing your country at the highest level, which speaks of your tremendous commitment and dedication to your art and your incredible passion for football.
“In the process of breaking the record for the number of goals in men’s international football, you have become not only a national hero but an international icon and a role model for aspiring players all around the world. Your skills and consistent drive for improvement deserves global acclaim and admiration. Parabens, Cristiano!”
Breakdown of Ronaldo’s record
Portugal’s qualification campaigns for World Cups and European Championships have accounted for more than half of Ronaldo’s goals. The goals against the Republic of Ireland made it 33 in World Cup qualifiers.
The Manchester United forward has scored 14 in European Championship finals, including three as Portugal won the 2016 tournament in France and five in this summer’s group stage before the holders were knocked out by Belgium. Ronaldo was the joint top scorer at Euro 2020 alongside Czech Republic frontman Patrik Schick.
A hat-trick against Spain saw Ronaldo score four at the 2018 World Cup and seven in total in his appearances at the tournament. The three previous World Cups brought him just one goal apiece – against Iran in 2006, North Korea in 2010 and Ghana in 2014.
Ronaldo has five in two Nations League campaigns and scored twice at the 2017 Confederations Cup, with his remaining 19 international goals coming in friendlies.
Ronaldo’s favourite opposition
Lithuania and Sweden have been on the receiving end of most Ronaldo goals – seven, after he scored four times against Lithuania in Vilnius and three in the return in Faro during Euro 2020 qualifying.
Ronaldo has six against Luxembourg, Hungary and Andorra with five each against Latvia, Armenia and Sweden. The Portugal captain has scored against 44 different international opponents in all, having added Germany and France to that list during the Euro 2020 finals.
Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored one hat-trick for Manchester United. So far. It came against Newcastle at Old Trafford in 2008. Thirteen years and 57 career hat-tricks later, Ronaldo could make his comeback at the same ground against the same opposition.
But how much has changed? That is the intrigue of Ronaldo’s return.