Belgium v Portugal: Ronaldo a goal away from beating world record but holders face major challenge

By Sports Desk June 26, 2021

All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo again on Sunday as he looks to become the outright world-record holder for international goals, though being out of the focus will do Portugal's opponents Belgium no harm.

The Juventus star tied Ali Daei's long-standing record of 109 goals with a pair of penalties in Portugal's thrilling 2-2 draw with France, the result ensuring the Selecao reached the knockout phase.

One more will put Ronaldo out in front, while he may also have designs on chasing down Michel Platini's record for the most goals scored in a single European Championship (nine in Euro 84).

But despite Ronaldo's five goals thus far, it has been by no means plain sailing for Portugal, whose four points was the poorest group-stage haul for a defending European champion since Greece in 2008 (zero).

 

Fernando Santos' men arguably could not have picked a stronger opponent to face next as they prepare to tussle with Belgium in Seville on Sunday, and while Portugal put their faith in Ronaldo, former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is a similarly talismanic figure for Roberto Martinez.

"Going to Inter was the perfect move, at the perfect time, with a perfect coach, with a perfect dream of winning the Serie A title," Martinez told ESPN.

"I think that has developed Lukaku to a level that is, for me, the best in his career. For me – and you know I am biased – he is the best striker in the world."

Since the 2018 World Cup concluded, Lukaku has 23 goals in 21 games across all competitions for Belgium and is just one shy of equalling his best return at a major tournament (four, 2018 World Cup).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium – Kevin De Bruyne

As well as enthusing about Lukaku, Belgium coach Martinez has also declared midfielder De Bruyne to be the best in the world in his position – and few would disagree with that assertion. Although he has only played 134 minutes at Euro 2020, De Bruyne has had a hand in three of Belgium's seven goals (one goal, two assists). Add to that the fact his 71 chances created in major tournaments since the start of the 2014 World Cup is bettered by no European player, then perhaps it is Belgium who hold the trump card with De Bruyne, rather than Portugal with Ronaldo.

 

Portugal – Renato Sanches

Lille midfielder Sanches was brought into the team for the dropped Bruno Fernandes against France, and given how effective he was then, he will surely keep his place. Portugal really benefited from his well-rounded excellence: he made more ball recoveries than any other player on the pitch (eight), his three tackles was bettered by only Nelson Semedo among Portugal players and he was also key to their build-up play – his 38 passes in the opposing half was 11 more than any of his team-mates.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Ronaldo is now the top-scoring European player at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros), with his double against France moving him beyond Miroslav Klose (19) to 21 goals. Indeed, that was Ronaldo's second brace of Euro 2020 already – no player has ever registered three in a single tournament at the European Championship.

- Belgium's victory over Finland last time out marked their ninth win at the World Cup and Euros combined under Martinez, with the Spaniard now holding the outright managerial record for major tournament wins with the Red Devils.

- Portugal have conceded six goals in three games at Euro 2020, already one more than they did at Euro 2016 when they went on to lift the trophy (five goals conceded in seven games). The last time Portugal conceded two or more goals in three consecutive games was in February 2013 under Paulo Bento. They shipped four to Germany followed by two to France in their last two games.

- Belgium have reached the knockout stages in each of their last five appearances at a major tournament (Euros and World Cup), progressing to the semi-final in their previous one at the 2018 World Cup. Their defeat to eventual winners France in 2018 is the only one of their last 10 games at major tournaments that they have failed to win (W9).

- Belgium have only failed to score in two of their previous 58 games under Martínez, averaging exactly three goals per game in this stretch of fixtures (174 in total). The two games where they have been shut out came in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against France (losing 1-0) and in their most recent meeting with Portugal, a 0-0 draw in June 2018.

Related items

  • Pedri describes playing with Lewandowski as a 'luxury' after Barca hammer Pumas UNAM Pedri describes playing with Lewandowski as a 'luxury' after Barca hammer Pumas UNAM

    Pedri described playing with Robert Lewandowski as a "luxury" after both players starred in Barcelona's 6-0 demolition of Pumas UNAM in the Joan Gamper trophy on Sunday.

    The Blaugrana ran riot in their traditional Camp Nou curtain-raiser, with goals from Pedri (two), Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Frenkie de Jong condemning the Mexican side to a crushing loss.

    Barca took just 20 minutes to establish a 4-0 lead as Pedri scored twice after laying on new signing Lewandowski's opener, with the Poland striker returning the favour to tee up the skilful midfielder's second strike.

    Lewandowski – who scored 50 goals in all competitions during his final season with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich last term – was named as man of the match, leading Pedri to shower him with praise. 

    "It was important for us to win in front of our fans and we have achieved it by playing a good game," the midfielder said.

    "The coach asks us all to reach the top and that we score goals, and I hope it continues like this. We've had a good pre-season and we wanted to start scoring soon.

    "It is a luxury to play with Lewandowski, I really enjoy seeing how he finishes and how he links up.

    "The president [Joan Laporta] and everyone have done a great job, and we will fight until May for it to be a very beautiful year for us all."

    With Lewandowski joining Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde and Raphinha in moving to Camp Nou ahead of the 2022-23 season, hopes are high that Barca can challenge for silverware – even if speculation persists that they may be unable to register their newcomers.

    For Xavi, the performance against Pumas – for whom Barca legend Dani Alves featured – represented the standard the Catalan giants must hit in every match.

    "Everything went well tonight, I'm very happy with the good game and for the fans, who have been excited. This is the way," Xavi declared.

    "We are in a good dynamic of play and results, but we have to continue working for this to work. The sensations are good, yes, but there is no need to lower the pace or the intensity during the 90 minutes.

    "Today it is understood that we relaxed a bit because we were 4-0 very early and it was a friendly, but in official competition you cannot lower your guard."

    Barca begin their LaLiga campaign at home to Rayo Vallecano next Saturday.

  • Neville hits out at 'desperate' Man Utd transfer strategy amid Arnautovic links Neville hits out at 'desperate' Man Utd transfer strategy amid Arnautovic links

    Gary Neville launched a scathing attack on Manchester United's transfer strategy after their 2-1 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, labelling the Red Devils "desperate" amid reports linking them with Marko Arnautovic.

    United began the Erik ten Hag era in dismal fashion on Sunday as Pascal Gross' double condemned them to an opening-day defeat to the Seagulls.

    The result made Ten Hag the first United boss to lose his first Premier League game at the helm since Louis van Gaal did so against Swansea City in August 2014.

    With wantaway striker Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench and fellow forward Anthony Martial injured, United struggled to test a resolute Brighton rearguard and only pulled a goal back when Alexis Mac Allister put through his own net.

    In the aftermath of United's defeat, widespread reports suggested they had a £7.6million (€9m) bid for Bologna's 33-year-old forward Arnautovic rejected.

    United have also failed to entice top target Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona thus far, and Neville did not hold back when discussing the club's recruitment.

    "The first thing you do when the phone rings from Manchester United is reject the bid, because the reality of it is after losing that game against Brighton on Sunday, they're actually negotiating from an even worse position than they were on Saturday, and that's an even bigger problem for them," the former United defender said on Sky Sports.

    "I've got a comment on everything in the world, apart from Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic. I've got nothing to say.

    "We've seen Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edison Cavani, Odion Ighalo - desperate, it's a pattern. 

    "It's happening time and time again. I don't even get angry or animated about it anymore. I'm not going to comment about it."

    Micah Richards was also unimpressed by the potential acquisition of Arnautovic, adding: "What has happened to Manchester United, seriously? I'm not going to stick the boot in. Arnautovic was a quality player, but he's 33 playing in Italy."

    After playing in the Premier League for Stoke City and West Ham, Arnautovic spent two years in China with Shanghai Port before moving to Bologna – for whom he scored 14 Serie A goals last season – in 2021.

    In his post-match media conference, Ten Hag declined to mention Arnautovic by name, only lamenting the unavailability of the strikers in his squad, with Ronaldo limited to a substitute appearance.

    "I don't go into names because I think in this pre-season 250 players are involved or linked with Manchester United, so that's it," Ten Hag said. "We have two strikers, maybe a third one, with Marcus Rashford as well.

    "We considered him as a striker, but he had a really good pre-season on the left side and today he had two really good chances coming in from the left side.

    "So I think it was the right decision to do it like this, the typical number nine wasn't available today."

  • 'It wasn't the defending' - Ten Hag refuses to blame Man Utd backline after Brighton defeat 'It wasn't the defending' - Ten Hag refuses to blame Man Utd backline after Brighton defeat

    Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag insisted his defence was not to blame for their opening-day defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford.

    The Seagulls found themselves 2-0 up at half-time after Pascal Gross scored a first-half brace.

    Ten Hag had opted to leave Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench due to a lack of fitness, but brought him on in the second period to positive effect and an Alexis Mac Allister own goal set up a tense finish.

    Brighton held on though for their first ever away win at Old Trafford, condemning Ten Hag to defeat in his first competitive game in charge of the Red Devils.

    However, the former Ajax boss refused to blame his backline for the defeat, telling reporters: "It wasn't the defending. We defend as a team and we made passing mistakes that were unnecessary in the midfield, then they took over. 

    "We have to be better at organisation because we have made appointments and they have to do the job which we talked about, which they have been appointed to do. That is not what we did and then we got punished.

    "The same with the second goal, it was totally unnecessary from a ball that was loose in the corner on the other side. It is not good that you then go on and concede a goal."

    Ten Hag also spoke on the improvement in United's performance after Ronaldo entered the fray, while conceding that he still has a way to go until he is at his best.

    "It was clear to see that in the second half we were better in the midfield, with Christian Eriksen back down and Cristiano Ronaldo further up," Ten Hag added.

    "Then we create and [Marcus] Rashford had two really good chances and it's a pity we didn't score to make it 2-2.

    "It takes time. We cannot force it and one week in training, a little bit more now, he has to do more to get fit and this game will help him. The 35 to 40 minutes he had now and now we have one week and he will be better next week."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.