Tuesday night in the Algarve saw yet another Cristiano Ronaldo masterclass. In his 188th cap for his country, Ronaldo netted an astonishing 58th career hat-trick, in which another record breaking ten of those have come in the colours of Portugal.
With no disrespect to Luxembourg, the fixture would have been a lick of the lips moment for the forward who stands out on his own when it comes to goalscoring on the international scene, who had already amounted three goals in the previous four World Cup qualifying matches.
Ronaldo’s Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes had embarrassingly missed a spot kick in a recent league game against Aston Villa in the Premier League, so it was no surprise that Ronaldo pushed Fernandes aside when the hosts were awarded a penalty just seven minutes in after Bernardo Silva was brought down by Sebastien Thill. With no doubt whatsoever he scored his 113th senior international goal with his usual aurora of confidence as he dispatched the ball straight into the middle of the net, followed by his trademark ‘SIU’ celebration.
The crowd in attendance witnessed somewhat of déjà vu, another penalty kick, and another Ronaldo goal, before finally completing his hat trick in the 87th minute with a trademark header at the back post after a lengthy review by VAR.
Further goals from Bruno Fernandes and Joao Palhinha added to the score line in what was a comfortable win for the Euro 2016 champions, highlighted by their fans producing a fine performance of their own with countless Mexican waves flowing through the stands of the Estadio Algarve.
Although many will argue Luxembourg are not a challenging opponent for the Portuguese and their star man, it can’t be argued that we will likely never see an international goal machine quite like Ronaldo.
His current record in the qualifying games for the 2022 Qatar World Cup now stand at 6 goals in 5 games, only bettered by Memphis Depay of Holland, Eran Zahavi of Israel, and Aleksandar Mitrovic of Serbia, despite Ronaldo having played fewer games.
When assessing Ronaldo’s international career it makes for astonishing reading. He had only recently broken the all-time international goal scoring record, originally held by Iranian Ali Daei with 109, when he scored two last minute goals as Portugal defeated Ireland.
Portugal’s first ever major tournament win came in 2016, coinciding with yet another Ballon d’Or winning year for Ronaldo, who played a major role in France.
Whilst the pandemic delayed Euro 2020 tournament failed to be a successful one on a team level for Portugal, it was another individual accolade that Ronaldo achieved as he overtook Frenchman Michel Platini as the competition’s top marksman with a total of 14 goals.
In last week’s fixture against Qatar, he made his 180th cap, which is a record for a European player, as well as becoming the oldest scorer of a hat-trick on international level with a treble against Spain during the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Despite moving back into first place in their qualifying group, the work is not yet finished for Portugal and Ronaldo as next month they face off against Ireland and Serbia in a clash which could see the winner take it all for the automatic qualification spot.
Portugal manager Fernando Santos will want his star asset to be in top condition for such important games but has recently publicly criticised Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about the forwards game time at club level, with the 36-year-old only having played 33 minutes off the bench in United’s 1-1 draw with Everton.
In the build-up to the international break Santos said: “He (Ronaldo) will go to the game (against Qatar) because he needs playing time. It’s important to him at this stage. The last full game he played was in the Champions League (against Villarreal on September 29). If he only plays against Luxembourg, he will have practically 15 days without playing intensity.”
However, with game time comes the risk of injuries and with World Cup qualification expected, Ronaldo will want to be fit for the finals in Qatar 2022, by which time he will be 37 years old, in what could possibly be his last major international tournament. Winning the World Cup in your final tournament would be a fitting end to an equally fitting career.
When speaking to ESPN on the matter back in 2016 Ronaldo said: “I expect Qatar could be my final World Cup. I often go on holidays there, to Qatar as well as Dubai. I am happy because for sure it will be last international tournament.”
Although most players careers are dwindling at the age of 36, Ronaldo has proven time and time again he is not just your average player. His incredible devotion to his fitness has allowed him to keep performing to the mind-blowing standards he has set over the last decade, so it would be no surprise to see him light it up one last time, on the biggest sporting stage of all.
When Ronaldo does finally hang up the boots it will be a sad day for football. Whether it be his freekick against Portsmouth for United in 2008, his overhead bicycle kick for Real Madrid against Juventus in 2018 or yesterday’s hat-trick against Luxembourg he has undoubtedly left his mark on the beautiful game for both club and country.