Cristiano Ronaldo breaks records so often that it’s easy to become numb to them. But the relentlessness of Ronaldo’s brilliance won’t detract from his significance when fans look back on his career in years to come.
And the Portuguese skipper rose to even higher standards just by taking to the field against Hungary on Tuesday evening.
By starting the Group F opener, the 36-year-old became the first player in the game’s history to play at five separate European Championships.
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And with 21 appearances to his name he has now also played more Euro matches than any other player – with Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger next on the list.
But he had to wait until the 87th minute to break the record that really mattered to him.
Ronaldo has appeared in many guises in those 21 matches; from the sparky winger that ended the 2004 final in tears after defeat to Greece, through the years of absolute dominance during the height of his career, to the goal-poaching centre-forward that he acts as in his latter years.
And famously he also turned touchline motivator in 2016 as he egged his team on from the sidelines following an injury in the final.
That evolution of his style in a Portugal jersey is something the man himself is more than happy to discuss, pointing to it as the reason for his lengthy spell at the top of the game.
“On a personal level, I am not the same player I was 18 years ago, or 10 years ago or five,” Ronaldo said before the game.
The most intelligent thing about a footballer is the ability to adjust. I am more mature now. If a player wants to play for many years he needs to know how to adjust and adapt and the numbers speak for themselves.
While the Juventus man might not be the all-powerful force he once was, he nevertheless finished Serie A top scorer last season for a reason, and showed that he’s still a world-class forward with another headline-grabbing performance in-front of a packed home crowd in Budapest.
Hungary are the only country competing in Euro 2020 who impose no Covid restrictions, and Ronaldo thrived in the presence of 67,000 fans at the Puskas Arena, involving himself in all of Portugal’s brightest moments in the opening stages of the Group F fixture.
But flicks, tricks and build-up play are not what drives Ronaldo. It is records - both team and personal ones - that inspire him, and he would have gone into Tuesday’s game more than aware that he needed just a single goal to move ahead of Michel Platini as the top goalscorer in Euro history.
And Ronaldo couldn’t have asked for a better chance to break that record than the one that presented itself to him on 42 minutes.
Unmarked on the edge of the box, Ronaldo leapt into action when Portugal won possession back on the left flank, making a searing run right into the heart of the penalty area to meet Bruno Fernandes’ low cross.The run was brilliant, the cross was pinpoint, and the finish was… not good at all.
If Ronaldo was the sort of person who experienced self-doubt, he’d have been forgiven for allowing that miss to impact him. But up he stepped to slot home from the spot and break that record with three minutes remaining on the clock.
And he rubber-stamped his new record with a brilliant second in stoppage time, finishing beyond Peter Gulacsi after a sublime piece of interplay with second-half substitute Rafa Silva. It is that sort of relentlessness in the face of either disappointment or frustration that sets Ronaldo apart from basically every other footballer on the planet. It is that relentlessness that saw him become the Euros' top scorer and it is that relentlessness that could see him extend that record further.
Upcoming games against France and Germany are exactly the sort of headline fixtures that Ronaldo relishes, and the man for the big stage has at least two more games in this competition in which to further cement his status as the greatest player the Euros has ever seen.
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