Of all the stadiums in all of Europe to be close to full capacity at Euro 2020 it would be the one that Cristiano Ronaldo bestrides for his latest international record on Tuesday. Murky politics may have been behind the Hungarian government’s decision to allow more than 60,000 fans into the Puskas Arena but, purely on a sporting level, the Portugal great will have the audience his extraordinary accomplishments deserve.
Ronaldo will become the first player to appear in five European Championship tournaments when he leads the holders out against Hungary in Budapest. He has already appeared in more tournament games than any other player (21) and needs one more goal to become the leading scorer in the competition’s history. He shares the record with Michel Platini, whose nine goals all came at Euro 84. Ronaldo’s nine have been spread across four tournaments since opening his account for Portugal with the consolation in their 2-1 group-stage defeat by Greece in 2004. Unsurprisingly, no other player has achieved that feat. Seventeen years on he stands alone, abs at the ready, aiming to reach the third Euros final of his career. No other player has achieved that, either.
What would it mean, the youthful-looking 36-year-old was asked on Monday, to add a fifth European Championship to his considerable list of individual records? “I’m not overwhelmed by this record,” came the underwhelming reply. “It is a good record but more important than this would be to win back-to-back Euros. It’s important that we start with a victory. The crowd will be on their side but it’s good to play in front of a crowd. I’m going to enjoy this and the team is very ready.”
Fernando Santos, il Portogallo allenatore, appears to possess a stronger squad than the one that triumphed in France and against France five years ago but the march of time means the same cannot be said of its leading man. That indifferent season Ronaldo supposedly had with Juventus, mind you, still yielded 36 goals as he adapted to Andrea Pirlo’s approach. è, he explained, the key to his remarkable success and longevity.
“As a team we don’t know yet [how it will be different to 2016],” said Ronaldo. “It’s not the same tournament as 2016. This is a younger team with great potential. Only by playing will we know if it is better or worse than 2016. On a personal level, I am not the same player I was 18 anni fa, o 10 years ago or five. We keep adjusting and adapting.
“The most intelligent thing about a footballer is the ability to adjust. I am more mature now. If a player wants to play for many years he needs to know how to adjust and adapt and the numbers speak for themselves.From 18 per 36 I have managed to adjust and adapt. I have always been able to win and on a collective level part of a team that has been able to win. I have shown that the key is to adjust all along my career.”
That maturity was evident on the subject of his future beyond the Euros, with numerous reports that his Juventus career could be coming to a close after three years. “I’ve been playing at the highest level for many years. This doesn’t faze me at all,” he insisted.
“If I was 18 o 19 maybe I would have sleepless nights but I’m 36 years old and whatever comes will be for the best. Regardless of if I stay at Juve or I am transferred the crucial thing is the Euros. It’s my fifth but for me it’s like my first. I want to play well and have good thoughts from the first to the last match.”
Santos has lost João Cancelo from his squad, after the Manchester City defender tested positive for Covid-19, and replaced him with Manchester United’s Diogo Dalot, who was part of the Portugal side beaten by Germany last week in the European Under-21 Championship final. With Germany and France awaiting in Group F there is little margin for error against a Hungary team that, in numbers and noise, will receive the biggest backing of the entire tournament. The relaxation of Hungary’s pandemic rules started on the day of Uefa’s deadline for host cities to confirm whether fans would be allowed inside stadiums. An “eerie coincidence”, according to the opposition Democratic Coalition.
“I wish every single venue could host a full house,” said Ronaldo. “It’s great for viewers, it’s great for the players but sadly it is not up to us. We know the pandemic has an influence. I wish I could always play in front of a full house.”
Hungary’s Italian coach, Marco Rossi, believes the intensity and passion generated by the largest crowd in European football for 15 months can compensate for the obvious gulf in quality between the teams.
“If someone is not motivated for this I think it is not only unforgivable, they should concentrate on playing another sport,” he insisted. “We can’t wait to get out there and represent Hungary. There are six or seven teams who can win it but we are approaching this like it is the last game of our careers. That is the difference between the two sides.”