Cristiano Ronaldo just would not be denied. He had a penalty saved by Gavin Bazunu and then saw John Egan put the Republic of Ireland on course for what would have been a famous and deserved victory. But Manchester United’s newest signing struck twice in the dying minutes to give his country victory and prolong his own legend, a pair of majestic headers making him the most prolific scorer in the history of men’s international football.
Ronaldo took his goal tally from 180 matches for his country to 111, two more than Ali Daei scored for Iran – and 102 more than the combined haul of Ireland’s starting XI on the Algarve. Ronaldo’s extraordinary feat made for an agonising end for the Ireland manager, Stephen Kenny, whose team delivered an intelligent and confident performance, proving they have made serious progress since losing at home to Luxembourg in March. Ireland have zero points from three qualifiers, and Kenny has one win from 14 matches in charge, but there was plenty of reason here to believe they are going in the right direction. There is no shame in being thwarted by the greatest scorer of all time.
“I’m very happy,” said Ronaldo. “Not only because I beat the record but for the special moments we had – getting two goals at the end of the game is so tough, I appreciate what the team did.”
For a long time it looked like Ronaldo would be upstaged by Bazunu. The 19-year-old goalkeeper, who is on loan at Portsmouth from Manchester City, made an error in the 10th minute by leaving a pass short to Jeff Hendrick, who was judged to have tripped Bruno Fernandes as he stretched to reach it. Bazunu made amends and vindicated Kenny’s decision to make him the country’s first-choice keeper by diving to the right to push away Ronaldo’s powerful spot-kick.
“That’s part of the business,” reflected Ronaldo. “Sometimes you score, sometimes you make mistakes.”
Diogo Jota then missed a chance to put Portugal in front, heading against the post from close range. But that chance aside, a confident Ireland looked the more savvy team as half-time approached. They played with real focus and method, and they were enterprising in possession.
Rui Patrício had to charge out of his goal to save from the pesky Aaron Connolly just before the break. From the resulting corner, Egan leapt in front of Ronaldo at the near post to meet a delivery by Jamie McGrath – who impressed on his first senior start for his country – and send a glancing header into the net.
Portugal had plenty of possession in the second but could not infiltrate a clever Irish defence, where 19-year-old Andrew Omobamidele did well after being introduced as a first-half substitute because of an injury to Dara O’Shea. The hosts could not create an opening until Matt Doherty misjudged a cross by Ronaldo in the 74th minute. Bernardo Silva blazed over from eight yards.