Having not won a single piece of major silverware since their maiden international match in 1921, Portugal have soared to great heights under the superb leadership of Cristiano Ronaldo. The 36-year-old talisman famously led his nation to glory at Euro 2016, demolishing their 95-year-old trophy drought in style. With a talented group of youngsters at their core and Cristiano Ronaldo spearheading the project, Portugal have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Cristiano Ronaldo created history with Portugal in 2021
Euro 2020 proved to be an extravagant bonanza for football fans all across the globe, providing them with several edge-of-the-seat moments. Unfortunately, Portugal failed to conjure a memorable display, departing early in the first knockout phase. Despite his side's overall disappointing showing, Cristiano Ronaldo proved to be their sole superstar in the competition.
The Manchester United star had a cracker of a tournament individually, finishing as the joint highest goal-getter with five goals, despite Portugal's early exit. In the process, he became the all-time top-scorer in the Euros, surpassing Michel Platini's tally of nine goals.
However, the most significant achievement of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal career occurred during a clash against the Republic of Ireland recently. A brace against the Irish side in the World Cup qualifier propelled him to the top spot in the scoring charts of men's international football.
With 115 goals for his nation, Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the greatest international player. While his goalscoring antics have received widespread acclaim, Ronaldo is also known for grabbing crucial strikes at the darkest of hours. Taking his ability to salvage the day into consideration, let's take a look at five times when Cristiano Ronaldo saved Portugal from the clutches of doom:
#5 Portugal vs Hungary, UEFA European Championship Group Stage (3-3, 2016)
Winners of Euro 2016, Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for their triumph at the said tournament. Ronaldo's relentless efforts kept his side alive in the competition, which eventually acted as the stepping stone to their triumph in the final.
Os Navegadores began their European campaign in a woeful manner, drawing their first two group stage matches against minnows Austria and Iceland. Standing on the cusp of elimination, Portugal desperately needed a point in their final group stage fixture against Hungary.
With diminishing hopes of qualifying for the knockout phase, Cristiano Ronaldo rose to the occasion to save the day for his country. He brilliantly set up Nani for Portugal's opener, scoring a second-half brace to tie things up against a rampant Hungary side. The game ended 3-3, and Portugal were able to scrape their way into the Round-of-16 as one of the four best third-placed sides. The rest, as we know, is history.
#4 Portugal vs the Netherlands, UEFA European Championship Group Stage (2-1, 2012)
Like 2016, Portugal faced a similar position in 2012. Paulo Bento's side headed into their ultimate group stage match, still unsure of their fate in the Euros. Although the Netherlands were experiencing one of the worst patches of form in 2013, they still had the talent to stage an upset.
Denmark and Portugal were tied on points after the conclusion of matchday two, with Germany comfortably leading Group B. According to the regulations back then, only two teams per group had the liberty to progress further into the tournament. So as things stood on the final day, either Portugal or Denmark were destined to crash out.
To their horror, Cristiano Ronaldo's side conceded an 11th-minute goal in the said fixture, putting them on the back foot from the get-go. However, their prolific No.7 had his eyes dead-set on the goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo rallied his teammates to press the Dutch, constantly bombarding them with attacks. In the end, Portugal managed to come out on top, thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo brace. The score ended at 2-1, with Denmark and the Netherlands getting eliminated.
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#3 Portugal vs the Netherlands, UEFA European Championship Semi-Finals (2-1, 2004)
The Netherlands must have eerie memories of facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Prior to the previously mentioned encounter in 2012, the Portuguese talisman had already eliminated the Netherlands in the 2004 edition of the Euros at the tender age of 19.
Following a tough group stage, both sides managed to reach the semi-finals of the 2004 European Championship. While Portugal defeated England on penalties in the quarters, the Netherlands did the same to Sweden following a goalless draw.
In an all-action brawl, Cristiano Ronaldo managed to put his side ahead with a towering header in the 26th minute. He even assisted Portugal's second goal, siding the ball to Maniche, who scored an absolute banger from outside the box. Due to Cristiano Ronaldo's involvement in each of their two goals, Portugal were able to glide past the Netherlands, setting up a final clash against eventual winners Greece.
#2 Portugal vs Spain, FIFA World Cup Group Stage (3-3, 2018)
At the 2018 World Cup, Portugal were drawn into Group B alongside international giants Spain. To make the tale spicier, their opening fixture just so happened to be against La Roja. Even though the Spaniards had experienced a steep decline following their dominant form since 2008, they still posed great danger to this Portugal side.
Fernando Santos' men were given an early lifeline as the referee pointed straight to the spot following Nacho's foul on Cristiano Ronaldo in the fourth minute. Maintaining his composure, the Real Madrid superstar slotted it past David De Gea from 12 yards out to give Portugal the lead.
After a Diego Costa equalizer, Ronaldo once again fired his side ahead in the 44th minute, following a calamitous error by De Gea. Having conceded a third goal, Portugal were given a last-minute opportunity to equalize in the form of a free-kick.
Once again, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who stepped up in the dying embers of the game. Refusing to go down, the legendary forward delivered a thunderous free-kick, completing a wonderful hat-trick in the process. And just like that, Portugal were saved.
#1 Portugal vs Sweden, FIFA World Cup qualifier (3-2, 2013)
One of the most important games in Os Navegadores' history occurred in 2013 when they were pitted against Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden. In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, Portugal had finished second behind Russia, forcing them to duke it out against Sweden for a place in the said tournament.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late winner in the first leg to give his side the advantage. For the second leg of this fixture, Portugal traveled to Solna with hopes of effortlessly putting the tie to bed. Nevertheless, Erik Hamren's men had something different planned.
Cristiano Ronaldo's strike in the 50th minute put his side 2-0 up on aggregate, and the game looked as good as over. However, Sweden struck back in no time, with Ibrahimovic scoring two goals in the span of four minutes to revive his side. The momentum was now with the home side and it looked like they would get a third goal to send them through at the expense of Portugal.
But when you have a savior like Cristiano Ronaldo on your side, things rarely take a turn for the worse. The electric forward responded in emphatic fashion, adding two goals to his tally in the space of just two minutes to bury the game once and for all. Subsequently, Portugal were able to progress to the 2014 World Cup, with Cristiano Ronaldo as their messiah.
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