Portugal s forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his team s first goal during the UEFA Euro 2024 group J qualification football match between Luxembourg and Portugal at the Stade de Luxembourg, in Luxembourg, on March 26, 2023. AFP
It took only two games for him to make his peace with Portugal’s national team and show he is not done impressing at the international level just yet.
In his return after a disappointing World Cup and a controversial move to Saudi soccer, the 38-year-old Ronaldo scored four goals in Portugal’s first two games in 2024 European Championship qualifying, showing he remains the leader that fans got used to seeing wearing the national team’s red and green uniform.
Ronaldo netted twice in the 6-0 rout of Luxembourg on Sunday, three days after scoring another brace in the 4-0 win over Liechtenstein, when he became the men’s player with the most international appearances with 197.
“Two games, two victories,” the Portugal captain said on his social media accounts after the win at Luxembourg. “Happy to have contributed to a very positive start by our national team. Let’s go.”
The goals came against European minnows but seemed to be enough to restore Ronaldo's confidence and his role as a starter with the national team.
Ronaldo was in tears the last time he left the field with Portugal following a loss to Morocco in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Qatar last year after he was benched by then coach Fernando Santos in the knockout stage.
The disappointing World Cup, added to his decision to accept a lucrative deal from Saudi club Al Nassr, had put in doubt his future with the national team. He said last week he wasn’t sure if he would ever play internationally again and only returned after reflecting with his family and realizing it wasn’t time to “throw in the towel” yet.
Also likely playing a part in his decision to keep playing was the arrival of coach Roberto Martínez to replace Santos after the World Cup. The Spaniard pledged to respect Ronaldo’s history, and the star forward said he welcomed the “breath of fresh air” to the national team.
Martínez said he was thrilled with the attitude shown by Ronaldo in the coach's first two games in charge.
“Ronaldo is a unique player and brings a lot of experience to the locker room,” the former Belgium coach said. “He is a reference and is prepared to be a leader and a captain of this national team.”
With his four goals at the start of the Martínez era, Ronaldo extended his international scoring record to 122 goals, 13 more than former Iran striker Ali Daei. Ronaldo’s 198th international appearance on Sunday left him two ahead of Kuwait’s Bader Al-Mutawa.
Portugal, the 2016 European champion, plays its next two matches against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland in June. The team leads Group J in Euro 2024 qualifying with six points, two more than Slovakia. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the tournament in Germany next summer.
And if Ronaldo remains as happy and motivated as he is now, he will certainly be there to try to help Portugal win yet another European trophy.
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