IT DIDN’T t take long for Cristiano Ronaldo to put the World Cup disappointment behind him.
Back as a starter with Portugal’s national team, Ronaldo became the most-capped player in men’s international soccer on Thursday (March 24, 2023 PH time), scoring twice in a 4-0 rout of Liechtenstein in the 2024 European Championship qualifying. The game marked the debut of coach Roberto Martínez with Portugal.
Ronaldo converted a penalty kick and scored off a free kick while making his 197th appearance with the national team. He tied Kuwait’s Bader Al-Mutawa with 196 caps after coming off the bench in Portugal’s loss to Morocco in the quarterfinals of the World Cup last year.
Ronaldo was benched in the knockout rounds in Qatar and left the field in tears after the defeat to Morocco. He had said his return to the national team was in doubt after the World Cup, but eventually decided it was not time to “throw in the towel.”
“To be in the national team, you have to be committed,” Martínez said of Ronaldo. “It’s a new cycle. It is very important that a player shows commitment and that he can use his experience. Cristiano has that: A lot of experience and a lot of commitment to the national team.”
The 38-year-old Ronaldo is also the all-time scoring leader in men’s soccer and took his tally to 120 goals after scoring with his penalty kick in the 51st and a powerful free kick from just outside the area in the 63rd.
Portugal dominated from the start at the José Alvalade Stadium and João Cancelo opened the scoring in the eighth minute. He also set up Bernardo Silva’s close-range goal in the 47th and the penalty that Ronaldo converted for the third goal.
Ronaldo received a standing ovation after being substituted by Gonçalo Ramos in the 78th.
He had become Europe’s most-capped player in 2021 after surpassing Sergio Ramos’ mark of 180 appearances with Spain.
Martínez arrived pledging to respect Ronaldo’s history and said he still counts on Ronaldo. He made the forward one of his captains entering qualifying for Euro 2024.
Martínez replaced former Portugal coach Fernando Santos after ending his six-year stint with Belgium following the World Cup.
“The result is very important,” Martínez said. “It was an opportunity for me to get to know the players, the way we can get the best out of the players’ qualities. I get the attitude and the will to work. I am very proud of the result.”
Portugal remained unbeaten in eight matches against Liechtenstein, with seven wins and a draw. Portugal has won each of its last five Euro qualifying matches against Liechtenstein, all without conceding a goal and while scoring 32 times.
Portugal’s qualifying group also includes Luxembourg, Iceland, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its next match is at Luxembourg on Sunday, March 26. The top two nations from each of the 10 groups qualify for the final tournament in Germany. (AP)
March 24, 2023
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