The European champions had come out of the Euro just as Cristiano Ronaldo faced Hugo Lloris for the second time from the penalty spot on a captivating evening in Budapest. He also had the little thing at his feet to equal Ali Daei’s all-time international goalscoring record of 109. The weight of history and responsibility did not deter the 36-year-old as he ‘he beat Lloris for the second time to secure Portugal’s place. in the last 16 and level an epic fight with France.
Ronaldo has struck twice to engrave his name in football folklore. Karim Benzema also scored a brace as the world champions recovered from a slow start and took the lead before being held up by the third penalty awarded on the night. They ended up as group winners regardless. The two can meet again later in the competition and, if it’s the aperitif, the reunion will be richly rewarding.
Fernando Santos put on an anxious figure from the start, pacing the edge of his technical area as both teams waited for kick-off. He responded to the 4-2 loss to Germany by dropping disappointing Bruno Fernandes and William Carvalho for João Moutinho’s wise header and Renato Sanches’ push into a three-way midfield. His mood will have been improved by the instant improvement.
There was a better balance among the European champions than in their first two matches. More solidity and sharpness too. After two brilliant substitute appearances, Sanches impressed again, his vision and touch lighting up a stellar midfield battle. A shoulder drop that completely deceived Paul Pogba left Puskas Arena purring. Portugal seemed a more dangerous unit from the start, France too dependent on individual brilliance once again. The breakthrough was deserved but incredibly ugly.
When Moutinho swept away a dangerous free kick from the right, Hugo Lloris threw his fist first, as keepers often do. Danilo first hit the ball with his head and was flattened by the France goalkeeper. Champions League final referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz immediately pointed to the penalty spot and gave Lloris a yellow card. The France goalkeeper protested his innocence, arguing without a doubt that it was a genuine attempt to clear the ball, but he was late and dangerous.
Ronaldo, of course, wasn’t wrong with his second penalty kick of the competition, sending Lloris the wrong way to bring his total to four for the tournament and his all-time international goals to 108 – a far cry from Ali Daei’s record. record. It was also Ronaldo’s first goal against France in seven games, plus his 20th in the European Championship and World Cup final, another record for the great Portuguese.
France was shaken. Their cohesion evaporated and their discipline also began to disappear with Lucas Hernandez and Antoine Griezmann who succeeded each other quickly for faults on Bernardo Silva and Danilo respectively. Kylian Mbappé had been the most dangerous outlet for world champions. A defensive pass from Pogba allowed him to quickly see Rui Patrício’s goal, but instead of crossing, he opted for a right-footed curler for the first time. The Wolves keeper read it perfectly to ward off.
Mbappé was however at the center of the equalizer. Having found Pogba inside, the Paris Saint Germain forward launched into the box and collapsed at the slightest touch of Nélson Semedo’s shoulder as he ran to retrieve the measured chip from the middle of ground.
The Spanish referee again did not hesitate to award a shot on goal. VAR confirmed their position, much to the chagrin of Portuguese players and a burning Santos, and Karim Benzema scored a categorical penalty to restore parity. It was the Real Madrid forward’s first goal for France since the end of his five-year international exile.
His second was not long in coming. Two minutes after the restart, Pogba again split the Portuguese defense with a nice weighted pass curled to the right. Benzema started behind Rúben Dias and finished low in front of Rui Patrício who kissed the inside of the far post as he entered. Benzema’s joy was interrupted by an offside flag. It was restored by a VAR review which showed the forward timed his run behind the Manchester City defender to perfection, and a look of astonishment appeared on Benzema’s face as his teammates ran to congratulate him .
The score was tough for Portugal and by then, with Hungary leading in Germany, they were out. Penalty number three brought them back. Jules Koundé, brought in place of troubled Benjamin Pavard at right-back, jumped with both arms in the air as Ronaldo crossed at close range on the left.
The ball hit Koundé’s arm and Lahoz’s arm was pointing in a familiar direction. Ronaldo had the weight of history and the qualification of Portugal at his feet. He again pierced his penalty to Lloris’ right. One hundred and nine international goals. Truly astonishing.
Deschamps had introduced Lucas Digne for Hernandez at halftime but Everton’s left-back only lasted five minutes before injuring a thigh muscle in a crash. He was replaced by midfielder Adrien Rabiot. Pogba, once again flourishing for France, nearly restored his lead with a stunning 25-yard strike. Rui Patricio’s save was even better, rocking the ball all the way over a post and then leaping up to produce another nice save to keep Griezmann from the rebound.