Cristiano Ronaldo should not have to shoulder Portugal’s hopes at the European Championship as he has in the past, but expect no let-up from him, even at age 36, as he sets his sights on becoming the top scorer of all-time in international football.
Ronaldo broke the 100 international goals in September 2020 and further strikes have taken him to within six goals of reaching former Iran striker Ali Daei’s record of 109.
Ronaldo has had his eye on that milestone for some time, remarking in 2019: “All records must be broken and I will beat that record.”
Ronaldo hit a stunning 11 goals in eight games in qualifying and was more than happy to fill his boots against minnows such as Lithuania, scoring seven goals in Portugal’s two games against them. But he also thrives in tournaments, such as when he hit a hat-trick in the 2018 World Cup opener against Spain or broke the deadlock against Wales in the Euro 2016 semi-final.
Ronaldo has scored in all eight major tournaments he has played in and will get two early opportunities to prove himself yet again on the biggest stage when Portugal face Germany in their second Group F game before meeting France.
Portugal’s triumph in the last European Championship is unlikely to sate his hunger either as he was injured early in the final against France, spending the rest of it hobbling up and down the sidelines yelling encouragement.
If anything, Ronaldo will be more motivated to inspire Portugal to defend their trophy and play a starring role should they reach the final, especially after a bitterly disappointing season at club level with Juventus, although typically, he still finished top of the Serie A scoring charts.
There should at least be a lighter burden on Ronaldo than when he practically carried Portugal to their first major trophy at Euro 2016 and had to make do with the likes of Ricardo Quaresma and Eder as forward partners. Now he can count upon fellow world-class attackers such as Joao Felix, Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes and Andre Silva, who combine to make Portugal as potent a force as any at the tournament.
Yet even with an all-star supporting cast this time, expect Ronaldo to play a leading role.