Cristiano Ronaldo edged closer to Ali Daei’s international goals record as he opened his account for the World Cup qualifying campaign in Portugal’s 3-1 comeback win over Luxembourg.
Ronaldo had a last-gasp winner disallowed against Serbia on Saturday, but the Juventus star had no need to throw his captain’s armband to the floor in anger this time around, nudging home to make it 2-1 to Portugal five minutes into the second half.
Fresh from his goal in Luxembourg’s victory over the Republic of Ireland, Gerson Rodrigues had put the minnows – who had Maxime Chanot sent off late on – ahead with a smart header.
Diogo Jota levelled proceedings on the cusp of half-time to pave the way for Ronaldo’s 103rd international goal and Joao Palhinha’s header to send Portugal top of Group A.
Portugal had to wait until the 24th minute to have an attempt, Ronaldo drawing a comfortable stop out of Anthony Moris before Luxembourg’s goalkeeper had a tougher save to make from Renato Sanches.
Yet it was Luxembourg who struck first. Danel Sinani looped in a cross from the right, and Rodrigues stooped low to head in his second goal in as many matches.
An injury to Joao Felix compounded Portugal’s frustration but, despite Moris’ best efforts, Luxembourg’s resolve was broken when Jota headed in Pedro Neto’s cross.
Parity did not last long, Ronaldo on hand to tuck in from Joao Cancelo’s delivery.
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) March 30, 2021
Moris pulled off another superb stop, this time from Nuno Mendes, with Jota then glancing a header off the bar.
Ronaldo should have made it 3-1, only to twice fluff his lines after being gifted a one-on-one – Moris making two excellent saves.
But Luxembourg’s goalkeeper was beaten again 10 minutes from time, Palhinha glancing Bernardo Silva’s corner in off the upright to add gloss to a laboured performance before Chanot received his second booking for a foul on Sanches.
What does it mean? Portugal grind it out
Luxembourg are proving themselves to be no whipping boys in Group A, though a more clinical display from Portugal would have seen the visitors claim a much more convincing win.
As it was, they had to rely on the stellar quality at their disposal to wear the home side down, rather than cruise clear. They are now top of the group, level on seven points with second-place Serbia.
Ronaldo unusually profligate, but edging ever closer
Up against an outstanding Moris – who recorded eight saves – Ronaldo lacked his usual composure in front of goal, though was in the right place when it mattered to nose Portugal ahead.
Ronaldo is now six shy of Iran great Daei (109) in the all-time international goals tally, and you would not put it past the 36-year-old to match the total in the upcoming European Championship finals, with Portugal heading into the rearranged tournament as holders.
Joao Felix appeared to sustain an ankle injury as he had a shot blocked late in the first half, and it capped a quiet display from the Atletico Madrid forward, who did not create a chance, had only one shot and registered a rather poor passing accuracy of 72 per cent during his 41 minutes on the pitch.
His replacement Neto made a swift impact, crossing for Jota to head in his third goal of the qualification campaign, and as with Diego Simeone at club level, one is left to wonder if Fernando Santos is the coach to get the best out of the talented youngster, especially in a team still built around Ronaldo.
Spain host Portugal in a pre-Euros friendly in June, with Santos’ team rounding off their preparations against Israel. Luxembourg do not play until September, when they face Azerbaijan.