The European champions were out of the Euros at the precise moment Cristiano Ronaldo faced Hugo Lloris for the second time from the penalty spot on a captivating night in Budapest. He also had the small matter at his feet of equalling Ali Daei’s all-time international goalscoring record of 109. The weight of history and of responsibility did not deter the 36-year-old as he beat Lloris for a second time to secure Portugal’s place in the last 16 and level an epic struggle with France.
Ronaldo struck twice to etch his name further into football folklore. Karim Benzema also scored a brace as the world champions recovered from a sluggish start and edged ahead before being held by the third penalty awarded on the night. They finished as group winners regardless. Both may meet again later in the competition and, if this is the appetiser, the reunion will be richly rewarding.
Fernando Santos cut an anxious figure from the outset, pacing up and down the edge of his technical area as the two teams waited to kick off. He had responded to the 4-2 defeat by Germany by dropping the disappointing Bruno Fernandes and William Carvalho for the wise head of João Moutinho and the thrust of Renato Sanches in a three-man midfield. His mood will have been improved by the instant improvement.
There was a better balance to the European champions than in their opening two matches. Greater solidity and sharpness too. Following two bright substitute appearances Sanches impressed again, his vision and touch illuminating a stellar midfield battle. A drop of the shoulder that completely fooled Paul Pogba left the Puskas Arena purring. Portugal looked a more dangerous unit from the start, Frankryk overly reliant on individual brilliance once again. The breakthrough was deserved but incredibly ugly.
When Moutinho swept a dangerous free-kick over from the right Hugo Lloris flew out fist-first, as goalkeepers often do. Danilo got his head to the ball first and was flattened by the France keeper. Champions League final referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz immediately pointed to the penalty spot and showed Lloris a yellow card. The France keeper protested his innocence, no doubt arguing it was a genuine attempt to clear the ball, but he was late and dangerous.
Ronaldo, natuurlik, made no mistake with his second penalty of the competition, sending Lloris the wrong way to take his tally to four for the tournament and his all-time international goals haul to 108 – one away from equalling Ali Daei’s all-time record. It was also Ronaldo’s first goal against France in seven games plus his 20th in European Championship and World Cup finals games, another record for the Portugal great.
France were shaken. Their cohesion evaporated and their discipline started to lapse too with Lucas Hernandez and Antoine Griezmann booked in quick succession for fouls on Bernardo Silva and Danilo respectively. Kylian Mbappé had been the world champions’ most dangerous outlet. A defence-splitting pass from Pogba gave him an early sight of Rui Patrício’s goal but instead of running through he opted for a trademark right-footed, first-time curler. The Wolves keeper read it perfectly to parry.
Mbappé was central to the equaliser, egter. Having found Pogba inside, the Paris Saint Germain striker set off on a darting run into the area and collapsed under the slightest touch from Nélson Semedo’s shoulder as he raced to collect the midfielder’s measured chip.
The Spanish referee again had no hesitation in awarding a spot-kick. VAR confirmed his stance, much to the disgust of Portugal’s players and a combusting Santos, and Karim Benzema scored an emphatic penalty to restore parity. It was the Real Madrid forward’s first goal for France since his five-year international exile ended.
His second was not long coming. Two minutes after the restart Pogba again split the Portugal defence with a beautiful weighted pass curled down the right. Benzema darted behind Rúben Dias and tucked a fine low finish past Rui Patrício that kissed the inside of the far post on its way in. Benzema’s joy was cut short by an offside flag. It was restored by a VAR review that showed the striker had timed his run behind the Manchester City defender to perfection, and a look of sheer astonishment appeared on Benzema’s face as his teammates ran back to congratulate him.
The scoreline was harsh on Portugal and at that point, with Hungary ahead in Germany, they were out. Penalty number three hauled them back in. Jules Koundé, brought in for the struggling Benjamin Pavard at right-back, leapt with both arms in the air as Ronaldo crossed from close-range on the left.
The ball struck Koundé’s arm and Lahoz’s arm was pointing in a familiar direction. Ronaldo had the weight of history and Portugal’s qualification at his feet. He drilled his penalty to Lloris’s right once again. One hundred and nine international goals. Truly astonishing.
Deschamps had introduced Lucas Digne for Hernandez at half-time but the Everton left back lasted only five minutes before injuring a thigh muscle in a collision. He was replaced by midfielder Adrien Rabiot. Pogba, flourishing again for France, almost restored their lead with a stunning strike from 25 yards. The save from Rui Patricio was even better, tipping the ball at full stretch on to a post and then leaping up to produce another fine stop to deny Griezmann from the rebound.