It’s a good bet Cristiano Ronaldo will score his 100th goal for the Seleção tonight at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
Should he do so, it would be highly appropriate to reach the astonishing milestone at the venue of probably his greatest ever performance in a Portugal shirt.
In an extract from The Thirteenth Chapter – From Eusébio to Ronaldo – Portugal’s 50-year journey from football minnows to European Champions, Tom Kundert recounts how an unplayable Ronaldo tore Sweden’s defence to shreds to book Portugal’s place at the 2014 World Cup.
Classic Match: Sweden 2-3 Portugal (19 November 2013)
The tremulous screaming voice of legendary Antenna 1 commentator Nuno Matos, inebriated by the work of genius he had just witnessed, is firmly embedded in Portuguese football folklore: “Hat-trick for Cristiano Ronaldo!!! Hat-trick for the world’s best!!!! Hat-trick that takes Portugal to Brazil!!! Saaaaaaaaamba!!! Ronaldo!!! He’s unique!!! He surpasses the limits of logic!!! It’s glory, it’s victory, it’s a supreme moment!!!”
Almost half a century earlier, that other genius of Portuguese football, Eusébio, had written his name indelibly into the annuls with a wondrous individual display to turn around a 3-goal deficit against North Korea and single-handedly propel Portugal to the semi-finals of the 1966 World Cup. On an autumn night in Sweden, Ronaldo gave a display every bit as devastating.
The Seleção had enjoyed much the better of the first half, playing with commendable composure considering what was at stake. Ronaldo had come close several times and had teed up Hugo Almeida perfectly, only for the striker to head wide of a gaping goal. But with the deadlock yet to be broken, Portugal were only one goal up on aggregate and the tie was still wide open as the second half kicked off.
The match exploded into life after the break.
Five minutes into the second period a quintessentially Portuguese slick passing move saw João Moutinho release Ronaldo with a perfectly weighted through ball. The captain still had plenty to do as he accelerated into the box diagonally, but he injected such pace into his left-foot shot that Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson was left grasping at thin air as the ball hurtled into the net. It was the trigger for wild celebrations among the entire Portugal contingent. Sweden now required three goals to turn around the tie in 40 minutes. The Seleção were surely on their way to the 2014 World Cup.
With the rampant Ronaldo causing havoc in the Sweden defence, it seemed even more of a certainty as the clock ticked down, until the 68th minute. Poor defending by Bruno Alves allowed Ibrahimovic to head a corner directly into the net past Patrício while barely having to lift his feet off the ground. Four minutes later and the Swedish striker’s fierce free kick from the edge of the 18-yard box fizzed under the Portugal goalkeeper to make it 2-1 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate. Suddenly Sweden were one goal away from destroying Portugal’s Brazilian dream, and the hostile crowd sensed blood.
Baptism of fire
Paulo Bento responded by throwing on Sporting’s young holding midfielder William Carvalho to try and shore up a midfield that had become alarmingly porous. Ten million Portuguese at home and millions more from the diaspora collectively held their breath. Welcome to international football William.
Yet as quickly as Ibrahimovic had reignited Sweden’s aspirations, Ronaldo took it upon himself to extinguish them. Minute 77. Hugo Almeida hooked a pass over the top, inviting Ronaldo to sprint clear. Tearing into the box, Ronaldo again showed a superhuman mixture of raw power, coordination and composure as, once more at full speed, he smashed a low left-footed angled shot across Isaksson for the equaliser. Minute 79. João Moutinho picked up the ball near the halfway line, spotted Ronaldo’s run and angled an inch perfect pass into the path of his insatiable captain. Again on the run, Ronaldo took two defenders and the goalkeeper out of the equation before driving a rasping finish, this time with his right foot, into the roof of the net.
Cue Nuno Matos losing himself in a desperate attempt to find appropriate eulogies. Ronaldo’s hat-trick goal saw him equal Pauleta’s record of 47 as Portugal’s top scorer. Ronaldo was not finished yet, three times coming close to matching Eusébio’s four-goal haul from all those years ago.
Amid the praise gushing down on the Portugal superstar from all quarters, it is understandable that Moutinho’s world-class passes for two of Ronaldo’s goals were overlooked, as was Bento’s brave decision to select Hugo Almeida, the striker also playing a beautiful through ball for Ronaldo’s second.
But on this occasion, one could forgive the media focusing on the individual rather than the collective. On that Stockholm night of 19 November 2013 Ronaldo had truly produced a performance for the ages.
Isaksson, Lustig, Olsson, Elm (Svenssonat, 45’), Nilsson, Antonsson, Larsson (Gerndtat, 90’), Källström, Ibrahimovic, Elmander, Kacaniklic (Durmazat 82’)
Patrício, João Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fábio Coentrão (Antunes, 52’) Meireles (William Carvalho, 73’), Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho, Hugo Almeida (Ricardo Costa, 82’), Ronaldo
[0-1] Ronaldo, 50’
[1-1] Ibrahimovic, 68’
[2-1] Ibrahimovic, 72’
[2-2] Ronaldo, 77’
[2-3] Ronaldo, 79’