LYON – Cristiano Ronaldo was both the problem and the solution for Portugal as they squeezed into the Euro 2016 knockout stages with a exhilarating 3-3 draw against Hungary on Wednesday.
The immaculately groomed winger, who began the day by throwing a reporter’s microphone into a lake, set up one goal and scored two as his side drew a third straight group game.
But Portugal might not have got into their predicament in the first place had Ronaldo, playing in a record 17th European Championship match, not wasted three free kicks in good positions before Nani got the first of their three equalisers.
Ronaldo, Portugal’s record scorer with 60 goals, has now netted at a remarkable seven major tournaments in a row — the last three World Cups and last four European championships, which has never been done before.
But a missed penalty against Austria and his insistence on taking — and missing — every free kick from a potential scoring position had led critics to question whether he had become an overbearing influence on the team.
That seemed to be the case for much of the first half and his furious reaction after Nani failed to pass the ball to him, throwing his arms in the air and turning his back on his team mate, suggested a growing impatience.
He had already shown his mood earlier on Wednesday when, during a lakeside walk with the squad, he had reacted to an impromptu question about how well he was prepared for the match by throwing the reporter’s microphone into the water.
Portugal were in desperate trouble when Balasz Dzsudzsak put Hungary 2-1 in front yet still enjoyed the luxury of wasting three free kicks 30 metres from goal, all taken by Ronaldo.
One went straight at the wall, and two more were easily saved by Gabor Kiraly.
Yet one moment of unselfishness from Ronaldo was enough to unlock the Hungary defence as he slipped the ball through to Nani who turned it past the 40-year-old keeper.
In the second half, Ronaldo became the solution, scoring Portugal’s second with a deft back-heel flick and their third with a towering header to move within one goal of Michel Platini’s all-time European Champinship record of nine.
That goal suggested Ronaldo — record scorer at Euro finals and in qualifying with 28 goals — is more likely to find the net if he waits in the area for a team mate to swing the ball in, rather than trying to shoot from improbable positions.
However, normal service was soon resumed with a speculative shot that flew high and wide of the goal from 35 metres — his 40th failed attempt to score from a free kick at a major finals. (Reuters)