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Ronaldo set to sting Hornets after Portugal frustration

Spectacular has quickly become the norm for Cristiano Ronaldo back at Manchester United.

Despite being criticised in some quarters, the 36-year-old has taken to rescuing United with late heroics like a duck to water.

The superstar has nine goals already this season but his Old Trafford comeback has come with plenty of frustration and a mixed bag of results.

After a heartbreaking stoppage-time defeat to Serbia saw Portugal miss out on automatic World Cup qualification, we look at Ronaldo’s campaign so far and judge whether Watford should fear a backlash on Saturday.

It has not all been plain sailing for CR7 since returning to Manchester.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United have looked a side short of rhythm or an idea of how they want to play and certain critics have blamed Ronaldo’s signing.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said: “I wouldn’t say it was a mistake but certainly some emotional impact was in there because he has been a fantastic player. 

“I believe Ronaldo can still score you the goals you need. Can he repeat it every three games, very high-intensity games? 

“When you buy a player like that, the secret is the balance of the team. 

“To play Ronaldo, he can win you games, but you need to create the balance around him.”

Despite United’s struggles, Ronaldo has come to Solskjaer’s aid on more than occasion. 

He has produced a series of barely believable moments to keep them riding high in the Champions League.

A stoppage-time winner against Villarreal and a fantastic header to secure a 3-2 win over Atalanta have been among the highlights. 

But it was the perfectly executed volley in the last minute at Atalanta to secure a 2-2 draw that encapsulated his impact.

When the chips are down and everything appears lost, Ronaldo is still able to conjure up magic out of nothing.

It is little surprise he was a key figure in the 3-0 win at Tottenham last month, when he scored his first league goal since the comeback win over West Ham in September.

The Portuguese veteran has also hit back at criticism of his displays.

Speaking recently, he said: “I know when the team needs my help defensively.

“But my role in the club is to win, help the team to win and to score goals — [the defensive side] is part of my job.

“The people who don’t want to see that is because they don’t like me but to be honest I’m 36, I win everything so am I going to be worried about the people who say bad things about me? I sleep good at night.

“I go to my bed with my conscience very good. Keep going with that because I will still close mouths and win things.”

There is no doubt it will be a frustrated Ronaldo taking to the pitch at Watford on Saturday.

That victory over Spurs was sandwiched by home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City prior to the international break.

And his trip away with Portugal was far from successful.

After a draw against the Republic of Ireland and the defeat to Serbia, Ronaldo and his countrymen must now reach next November’s World Cup in Qatar via the play-offs. 

Playing one of the Premier League’s worst defences could prove just the tonic the former Real Madrid and Juventus icon needs.

Watford have shipped 19 goals in 11 top-flight games, with Liverpool putting five past them at Vicarage Road.

Claudio Ranieri’s troops will be on red alert come 3pm on Saturday.

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It wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo’s evening at the Aviva Stadium as he failed to break down a resolute Republic of Ireland defence last night, but he made a special memory for a young supporter afterwards.

Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who made a late save from the Manchester United star in the 0-0 draw, requested a jersey swap but Ronaldo saved his shirt for a young girl who ran onto the pitch.

She looked delighted as she got a hug from her hero and his jersey before being led off the pitch by stewards.

Shelbourne said the young supporter was one of their under-13 players, Addison Whelan.

The League of Ireland side tweeted: “Shelbourne U13 player Addison Whelan gets Ronaldo’s jersey.”

Stephen Kenny’s side put on a fine display against a Portugal side which included Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Andre Silva and Goncalo Guedes.

Ireland need three points in their away clash against Luxembourg on Sunday to finish third in World Cup qualifying group A.

While any hopes of qualification for the 2022 World Cup are already over, Kenny has encouraged his side to finish the campaign on a high note.

He said: “From my point of view, I know there’s nothing in it in terms of it doesn’t help us in the European Championships, it doesn’t affect the seeding or anything like that, but from a personal pride point of view, apart from the 97th-minute goal that Ronaldo got, it’s nine matches with one defeat.

“We look defensively better now, we’re not giving up many chances and three clean sheets in the last three games, so of course we want to go to Luxembourg and win, of course we do.

“But tonight is about tonight and tonight, I thought, was of a very, very high standard technically for 65 minutes, maybe and a good defensive display for 90 minutes.”

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A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick helped Portugal stroll to a 5-0 win over Luxembourg in World Cup qualifying Group A on Tuesday.

The victory ensures Portugal remain a point behind group leaders Serbia, who moved onto 17 points with a 3-1 home win over Azerbaijan, and boast a game in hand as well as superior goal difference with two rounds of matches remaining.

The treble, which meant Ronaldo became the first man to net 10 international hat-tricks, takes his tally to 115 international goals from 182 caps as he continues to extend his lead as the top men’s international goalscorer of all-time.

Portugal had the game all but won within the opening 18 minutes as they raced to a three-goal lead. Ronaldo struck twice from the penalty spot in the 8th and 13th minutes: the first was awarded for a foul on Bernardo Silva by Sebastian Thill, though replays appeared to show the contact came outside the box.

For the second penalty, Ronaldo was fouled by goalkeeper Anthony Moris and after converting, he was forced to take it a second time as Andre Silva was judged to be encroaching in the area.

Five minutes later, Ronaldo’s Manchester United teammate, Bruno Fernandes, made it 3-0 as he fired in following good work from Bernardo Silva. Midfielder Joao Palhinha added a fourth with just over 20 minutes to go, converting from a corner after Ronaldo’s overhead kick effort was saved, before Ronaldo netted his 10th treble for his country — and his first in over two years — just three minutes from time with a header from close range, assisted by Ruben Neves.

Said Portugal manager Fernando Santos after the match, “we’ve achieved our first aim, which was to win this game. Now we have two more qualifiers left. We managed to restrain our rivals and take advantage of every situation to transform them into goalscoring opportunities.”

Fernandes, who scored Portugal’s third goal of the evening, was full of praise for his side’s performance. “Scoring always helps regardless of whether it’s early or not. We knew that Luxembourg, as time went by, would close themselves back and we had to start strong. That’s what we did.

“I think we had a complete game overall and the most important thing was the result.”

In the November window, Santos’s Portugal side travel to Ireland before then hosting Serbia in what could be a winner-takes-all fixture to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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Cristiano Ronaldo is not yet satisfied with his international goalscoring exploits despite establishing himself as the most prolific marksman in the business with a late double to sink the Republic of Ireland.

The 36-year-old dragged Portugal back from the brink of World Cup qualifier defeat in Faro on Wednesday evening to serve notice of his enduring quality as he prepares to pull on a Manchester United shirt for the first time in 12 years.

His efforts secured a 2-1 Group A win at the Estadio Algarve and eased him passed former Iran striker Ali Daei’s tally of 109, which he equalled at the Euro 2020 finals, although he insisted afterwards he was in no mood to allow international defenders any respite.

Writing on his Instagram account, he said: “From all the records that I have broken during my career – and fortunately there have been a few – this one is very special for me and it’s certainly on the shelf of the achievements that make me truly proud.

“First of all, because every time I represent my country is a special moment, for knowing that I’m defending Portugal and showing to the world what Portuguese people are made of.

“Secondly, because national teams competitions have always had a very strong impact on me as I was growing up, watching my idols playing for their flags every other summer in Euros and in World Cups.

“But finally and above all, because scoring 111 goals for Portugal means 111 moments like the ones we experienced today in Algarve, moments of worldwide union and happiness for millions and millions of Portuguese citizens all around the Globe. For them, every sacrifice is worth it.

“Thank you Portugal. Thanks to all my team-mates and opponents for making this journey so unforgettable. Let’s keep meeting inside the pitch in the years to come! I’m not closing the count just yet.”

Ireland were within a minute of a famous victory courtesy of John Egan’s header on the stroke of half-time when Ronaldo struck for the first time, and looked set to emerge with a more than creditable point until he repeated the feat in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

Manager Stephen Kenny said: “I thought that we were very very close to an historic victory. The players were really exceptional and I felt that in the first half, we controlled a good bit of the game

“Our first-half lead did not flatter us. The second half was tougher for us. They are a high quality team who played well in the second half. We defended heroically and had chances to go two up.

“But we could not quite get there. To lose as we did is devastating.”

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Cristiano Ronaldo won the Golden Boot at Euro 2020 on Sunday, to continue a tournament of records for the Portugal captain.

His Golden Boot was made official after Italy beat England in a penalty shootout to win the Euro on Sunday night at Wembley.

Ronaldo, 36, ended on five goals for Portugal, the same number as Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick, with Ronaldo’s one assist at the tournament enough to crown him the Golden Boot winner due to the criteria by which UEFA ranks the contenders. UEFA uses assists as a tiebreaker, then fewest minutes played and then, finally, goals scored in qualifying if necessary to declare an outright winner.

In addition to ending as the tournament’s leading scorer, the Juventus forward claimed a string of other records. He netted twice in Portugal’s 3-0 win over Hungary to become the all-time men’s leading scorer at the European Championship, as he surpassed Michel Platini’s 11 with France before he eventually ended on 14 goals in total.

Three of Ronaldo’s five goals came from the penalty spot. His two late spot kicks put the gloss on Portugal’s opening win against Hungary, before another two sealed a 2-2 draw with France that ensured the defending champions progressed to the knockout phase. Between those was a stunning effort in the 4-2 loss against Germany in which he sprinted the length of the pitch to round off a rapid counter-attack.

Ronaldo also featured in a record fifth European Championship — no other man has managed more — while also tying the men’s record for most international goals, on 109 with Iran’s Ali Daei.

Portugal, who won Euro 2016 in France, saw their trophy defence end in the round-of-16 stage following a 1-0 defeat to Belgium.

Meanwhile, the tournament finished with 11 own goals, which meant Euro 2020 easily surpassed the total number of own goals scored at every other European Championship combined, with just nine own goals scored across the 15 previous tournaments.

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A rocket from Thorgan Hazard knocked reigning champions Portugal out of Euro 2020 on Sunday and earned Belgium a blockbuster quarter-final with Italy.

Hazard’s swerving shot before half-time sealed a 1-0 win for Belgium and settled a scrappy contest in Seville that never really lived up to its billing as the stand-out tie of the last 16.

But it could prove a statement victory for Belgium, whose chief concern now will be the fitness of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, who both hobbled off injured and will undergo scans on Monday.

De Bruyne suffered an ankle injury while coach Roberto Martinez said Hazard’s problem was “more of a muscle feeling”.

Cristiano Ronaldo tested Thibaut Courtois with a dipping free-kick in the first half but the 36-year-old neither broke the international goals record nor added to his five for the tournament.

Raphael Guerreiro went closest to a late equaliser when his shot came back off the post, one of 29 shots Portugal had, six of them on target.

But before the late rally, Belgium were the braver, more fluid team and Martinez hailed his side’s fighting spirit to hold on.

“We showed our talent in the first half and in the second half we showed an aspect that wasn’t there two or three years ago,” said Martinez. “This is what a winning team needs.”

For all the superstar names on the pitch, it was Eden Hazard’s less heralded brother Thorgan who proved decisive, the Borussia Dortmund winger who Eden once said had even more talent than him.

“In these games if you have a chance you have to have a go,” Thorgan said. “It went in, with a bit of luck and it was the goal that got us through. It’s a dream for me.”

Portugal, meanwhile, stuck to the defensive approach that served them so well in France five years ago but has perhaps been outgrown by a side that now boasts some of the most creative technicians in the world.

“I think it’s an unfair result but they scored and we didn’t,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.

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Prolific Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos has reportedly agreed personal terms to join Portuguese giants Porto.

The Colombian attacker is expected to quit Ibrox this summer, with a number of top European clubs chasing his signature. However, it would appear that Porto have won the race after reports last week that Morelos was subject of a £10million bid.

It’s understood that Rangers are looking for a fee in the region of £15-20m for the 25-year-old frontman.

But radio station Antena 1, as cited by the Glasgow Evening Times, states that there is a “total agreement” between Porto and the player over a move.

Morelos has scored 94 goals in 182 games during his time at Ibrox. He was also a key figure as Steven Gerrard’s side lifted the Scottish Premiership title last season.

The striker has often been a controversial figure at Ibrox, however, having been sent off an incredible seven times.

Any fee that Rangers recoup for Morelos is expected to go towards the addition of another striker for Gerrard.

The Ibrox outfit begin the defence of their title against Livingston on July 31.

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Cristiano Ronaldo struck a brace of penalties to equal Ali Daei’s record of international goals and earn Portugal a 2-2 draw with France which booked them a place in the knockout phase of Euro 2020.

The Juventus forward scored from the spot in each half to ensure the current holders remain in the competition following a thrilling night of Group F action.

It was Ronaldo’s old club-colleague at Real Madrid, Karim Benzema, who had put Portugal on the verge of exiting the tournament before referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded another penalty in Budapest.

With Germany only able to draw with Hungary in Munich, France were able to top the ‘group of death’ with a tally of five points following a back and forth encounter at the Puskas Arena.

Next up for the world champions is Switzerland while Portugal will travel to Seville to take on Belgium in a mouth-watering last-16 clash.

After two early efforts from Ronaldo were sandwiched between Kylian Mbappe being denied by Rui Patricio, Fernando Santos’ side were given the chance to take the lead in the 27th minute.

France captain Hugo Lloris was penalised for catching Danilo Pereira with a punch from a cross and after the defender was able to leave the pitch on his feet, it was over to the Portugal captain.

Ronaldo made no mistake, smashing home his 108th international goal to briefly put the European Championship holders top of Group F in the repeat of the 2016 final.

It was shortlived with Paul Pogba central to France winning their own spot-kick on the verge of half-time when his pass into Mbappe saw Nelson Semedo drawn into bringing down the Paris St Germain attacker.

Benzema took responsibility and found the net in the second minute of stoppage time for his first international goal in almost six years after he was handed a surprise recall following a lengthy absence ahead of the tournament.

And when Benzema collected another wonderful Pogba pass in the 47th minute and slotted beyond Patricio, Portugal were suddenly heading out with VAR able to overturn the initial decision to rule out the goal for offside.

Ronaldo, as he often does, had the final say with the talisman winning his country a second spot-kick when his cross hit the arm of Jules Kounde.

Ronaldo again sent Lloris the wrong way to tie level with Iran great Daei’s record of 109 international goals.

There was no further drama with Patricio producing a crucial double save with 23 minutes left, firstly tipping Pogba’s 25-yard curler onto the post before he saved Antoine Griezmann’s follow-up effort from inside the area.

After news filtered through that Germany had equalised against Hungary, it meant France and Portugal could slightly breathe easier with both all but confirmed of a place in the knockout stage.

The full-time whistle followed which meant Switzerland awaited France in Bucharest on Monday while Portugal faced Belgium a day earlier.

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Three-times European champions Germany shrugged off their opening game loss and announced their arrival as serious contenders at Euro 2020 with an emphatic 4-2 win over highly-rated Portugal in their Group F match on Saturday.

The Germans had been beaten by world champions France in their opener prompting serious questions over their ability to make a challenge in this tournament but Joachim Loew’s side responded to the pressure with an outstanding performance.

Cristiano Ronaldo had given the defending champions a 15th minute lead with his 107th international strike, but Germany went in at the break 2-1 up thanks to own goals from Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro.

The Germans turned on the style in the second half with efforts from Kai Havertz and the impressive Robin Gosens making it 4-1 before Diogo Jota pulled a goal back for Portugal.

The result throws the ‘Group of Death’ wide-open and gives Germany a strong chance of progressing to the last 16.

Germany, who face Hungary in their final game in Munich, move into second place in the group on three points, a point behind leaders France and level on points with the Portuguese. Hungary drew 1-1 with France earlier on Saturday.

It was not merely the result that suggested some pundits were wrong to write off Germany – the fluency of their passing, the killer crosses and the intelligent running was a reminder of the enduring qualities of German football that has delivered so much success on the biggest stages.

“Overall it was an outstanding performance from the team, great attitude, great spirit, we had many chances, outstanding,” said Loew.

Germany started with purpose and confidence and thought they had grabbed the lead in the fifth minute through Gosens but VAR ruled that Serge Gnabry had been in an offside position.

Against the run of play, Portugal grabbed the early lead, hitting the Germans on the break with Bernardo Silva picking out Jota on the left of the box and his low cross was tapped in from close range by Ronaldo.

It was the Portugal skipper’s third goal in two games and his first ever against Germany but Joachim Loew’s side kept their cool and continued to play positive football before eventually getting their reward.

The Germans drew level in the 35th minute when Joshua Kimmich’s cross from the right was volleyed at the back post by Gosens and flew into the net off the outstretched foot of Portugal defender Dias as he looked to stop Havertz converting.

It was another own goal that gave Germany the lead — Kimmich drove in a low ball from the right and Guerreiro’s attempted clearance flew past his goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

Portugal replaced Bernardo Silva with Renato Sanches at the break but Germany took a firm grip on the game with a third goal six minutes after the restart — a well-worked passing move ending with Havertz turning in a low ball from the left delivered by the influential Gosens.

Germany were buzzing now, and it was no surprise when they made it 4-1 on the hour with Gosens finishing off another well constructed attack, heading home a Kimmich cross at the far post.

Portugal struck back quickly though when a deep free-kick from Guerreiro looked to be heading out but Ronaldo acrobatically hooked the ball inside to Jota who slotted home.

Sanches fired a warning of a potential comeback when he thundered a long distance drive against the woodwork but Germany’s victory was never really in doubt.

The threat from the wide areas was particularly impressive with Gosens dynamic on the left and Kimmich impressive on the right while Havertz’s ability to ghost into space was never neutralised by the Portugal defence.

“We wanted better movement up front. From the start there was tempo, good combinations, from the wings with Kimmich and Gosens… that was our plan and it worked,” said Loew.

Despite a 3-0 win over Hungary in their opening game, Portugal’s progress to the last 16 is not secure and they need to take something from their final game against France in Budapest.

“Anyone can progress. This group was always very strong,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “Whether we progress or not is still up to us. And we must respond to this.”

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Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo netted twice to make history at Euro 2020 on Tuesday, making him the leading scorer in the Championship’s history with 11 goals in a men’s record fifth tournament appearance.

The Portugal captain overtook France great Michel Platini with his first goal in a 3-0 win over Hungary when he converted a penalty kick in the 87th minute. He rifled the ball into the corner of the net and set off for one of his trademark celebrations, which drew plenty of whistles from the capacity 67,000 mostly Hungarian fans at the Puskas Stadium in Budapest.

Ronaldo then scored his second on a tap-in as full-time approached, which overtook the records of Germany’s Birgit Prinz and Inka Grings, who both scored 10 at the women’s European Championship. The women’s tournament is scheduled every two years, compared with four years for the men’s equivalent.

The Juventus striker took his tally to 106 goals in 176 appearances for Portugal, three fewer than Iranian Ali Daei’s men’s record of 109 international goals. The record is held by Christine Sinclair of Canada, with 186 goals.

Ronaldo is the only man to score in five European Championship tournaments, extending his own record.

“It was a very difficult game but we got three goals. It was vital to win and start the tournament with confidence and now we want to keep on winning,” said Ronaldo.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos added: “If we’d scored earlier it would have been easier for us. We missed a few chances then had some anxious moments but found our composure again and finished the game well.”

Tuesday was cause for a double celebration for the Portugal talisman, who also set a men’s record for five Euros appearances. He first appeared at a European Championship in 2004 when he helped Portugal reached the final on home soil. He has played in every tournament since and scored in each.

Spain’s Iker Casillas was part of five La Roja squads from 2000 to 2016 but did not play in two of the tournaments, making Ronaldo the first man to be selected and play in five European Championships.

Italy’s Carolina Morace, who manages Lazio’s women’s team, holds the appearance record at the European Championships with six.

“This is my fifth European Championship but for me it feels as though it’s my first,” Ronaldo said ahead of Tuesday’s game.

There have been 17 men to appear at four European Championships, including Germany’s Lothar Matthaus and Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel.

Ronaldo also extended his own record of most appearances at the Euros, moving on to 22.

Ronaldo, who led Portugal to success at Euro 2016, broke another record by surpassing Spain duo Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas for most matches won in the tournament with 11.

Following his appearance against Hungary, Ronaldo is three games from breaking the record of 58 appearances in European competition (qualifying phase and finals), held by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

“Players who have longevity in football are those who can adapt,” Ronaldo said of the secret behind his long and successful career. “The numbers speak for themselves: I have adapted from 18 to 36. I always work to achieve things on a personal and collective level.”

Ronaldo completed his third season at Juve, scoring 36 goals in 44 appearances despite missing several games due to COVID-19. The former Real Madrid star was unable to help Juve go past the round of 16 of the Champions League and the Turin giants also failed to win the Serie A title, finishing fourth — 13 points behind Scudetto winners Inter Milan.

Ronaldo has a year left on his contract with Juventus but has not committed to the side and is expected to decide his future after the tournament is over. Portugal also take on France and Germany in Group F.