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Ronaldo refuses to fade away

Superstar still 'very important' to Portugal after goal haul extends international records

Updated: 2023-03-28 09:19
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Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring Portugal's first goal during his team's 6-0 victory at Luxembourg in their Euro 2024 Group J qualifying match on Sunday. AFP

Superstar still 'very important' to Portugal after goal haul extends international records

LUXEMBOURG — Cristiano Ronaldo remains a "very important" player for Portugal, coach Roberto Martinez said on Sunday after the veteran striker scored a second successive brace in Euro 2024 qualifying against Luxembourg.

The 38-year-old opened the scoring for the Euro 2016 winner by turning in Nuno Mendes' header and slotted home another in the 31st minute as Portugal won 6-0.

Ronaldo, who also netted twice against Liechtenstein on Thursday, increased his records for most men's international appearances and goals to 198 and 122 respectively.

"Cristiano is a unique player in the world, with the highest number of international caps," said Martinez, who has restored Ronaldo to the starting lineup after he was dropped during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"The experience he has for the dressing room is very important.

"All players have an important role. The younger ones due to their willingness to play and players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Rui Patricio and Bernardo Silva bring experience.

"It's important to have a complete dressing room."

Martinez joined Portugal after the World Cup, replacing Fernando Santos who had been in charge since 2014.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a fine start, with his team already two points clear at the top of Group J having scored 10 goals without reply.

Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Otavio and Rafael Leao were all also on the scoresheet in Luxembourg.

"It's important to play as a team, to open up the game with the ball," said Martinez.

"We work so the players understand what we want and it's been a good start, but we have to improve and work much more together."

Elsewhere in the group, Iceland bounced back from its opening defeat by Bosnia and Herzegovina by thrashing Liechtenstein 7-0.

Slovakia moved into second place behind Portugal with a 2-0 win over the Bosnians.

Italy recovers

In Group C, reigning champion Italy bounced back from its loss to England with a straightforward 2-0 away win over Malta.

Argentine-born forward Mateo Retegui followed up his debut goal against England by opening the scoring early on.

Monza midfielder Matteo Pessina made it two before the half-hour mark and Italy comfortably saw out the victory.

England tops the group with two wins from two after beating Ukraine 2-0 on Sunday.

Denmark shocked

Denmark blew a two-goal lead to crash to a surprise 3-2 defeat in Kazakhstan.

The Euro 2020 semifinalist appeared to be cruising to victory in the Group H match as Atalanta youngster Rasmus Hojlund netted twice in the first half after scoring a hat-trick against Finland on Thursday.

Kazakhstan had started its bid to qualify for a first-ever major tournament with a home defeat to Slovenia.

But Bakhtiyor Zaynutdinov's 73rd-minute penalty gave the host hope of a famous turnaround in Astana.

Midfielder Askhat Tagybergen crashed a long-range drive past a helpless Kasper Schmeichel with four minutes of regulation time remaining to equalize.

Substitute Abat Aymbetov provided the golden moment for Kazakhstan — who has already at least secured a Euro 2024 playoff spot through the Nations League — leaping to power a header into the top corner in the 89th minute.

He was later sent off for a second yellow card but by then had already grabbed the three points.

Spanish delight

Coach Luis de la Fuente got off to a winning start with Spain thanks to a magical debut from striker Joselu.

Joselu scored in the 84th and 85th minutes — shortly after coming off the bench — to help seal Spain's 3-0 win over Norway on Saturday in De la Fuente's first game in charge.

Dani Olmo had scored early as Spain opened its campaign with victory over a Norway squad that was without star forward Erling Haaland because of a groin injury.

"I still don't believe it. I scored twice in my debut," the 32-year-old Joselu said.

"This is everything a player can ask for. Hard work has its rewards. I feel like an 18-year-old kid."

Before entering the match in the 81st, Joselu kissed his shin guards, which have a picture of his late father on one of them and his wife, kids and mother on the other.

"They all give me strength," he said.

The Germany-born Espanyol striker became the first Spain player to score twice on his debut since Fernando Morientes in 1998.

"It's our job to know the players, but all credit goes to Joselu," De la Fuente said. "We gave him the opportunity and I'm happy for him and for all the players."

It was Spain's 23rd straight win in a European qualifier at home.

Norway, trying to make it to a major tournament for the first time since Euro 2000, remains with only one win in nine matches against Spain.

La Roja arrived with a squad overhauled by coach De la Fuente after he was promoted from Spain's under-21 team to replace Luis Enrique in December following the team's elimination against Morocco in the last 16 of the World Cup.


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