Cristiano Ronaldo tucked away a penalty and slammed home a free kick as he set a new record for the most international caps in Portugal‘s 4-0 win over Liechtenstein in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier on Thursday.
Ronaldo celebrated his 197th cap, surpassing Kuwait’s Bader Al-Mutawa, with a double as he returned to the starting lineup for their Group J qualifier at the Jose Alvalade Stadium.
He converted a 51st-minute penalty — his first goal against the tiny Alpine principality — as the home side went 3-0 up and added the fourth with a trademark free kick that bent back the hands of visiting goalkeeper Benjamin Buchel.
After the match, Ronaldo wrote on Instagram: “Such good feelings for playing again and scoring for our national team and in a special stadium for me. Proud to be the most capped player ever.”
Joao Cancelo had put Portugal into an eighth-minute lead with a long-range half volley that took a slight deflection through a crowd of players, but Portugal were frustrated by solid defending from the visitors.
Seventy seconds into the second half, however, Bernardo Silva picked up a loose ball after Cancelo’s progress to goal was halted and rifled home for a 2-0 lead.
Ronaldo, who turned 38 last month, tucked in a penalty after Cancelo had been brought down before his rasping free kick in the 63rd minute extended his record for the most goals in international football to 120.
Earlier the Portugal captain, taken off in the 78th minute before he could bag a hat trick, missed gilt-edged chances when he skied the ball in front of goal and glanced a header wide.
Ronaldo had been benched by former coach Fernando Santos for Portugal’s final two games at last year’s World Cup in Qatar where they lost in the quarterfinals to Morocco. Former Belgium manager Roberto Martinez replaced Santos and was managing his first game as coach of Portugal.
“It was very, very positive,” Martinez told Portuguese television.
“It was an obvious next step from the attitude and the work we did in training. It is always very difficult to play this type of game, they are ‘trap games’, but the way we played with the ball and how we smothered the danger of Liechtenstein was very important.”
Ronaldo is currently playing with Saudi club Al Nassr after an acrimonious departure from Manchester United ahead of the World Cup, but Martinez said the door is still open for the country’s biggest star to carry on with the national team.
“It’s a new cycle. It’s important for a player to show commitment and that we can use his experience, and Cristiano shows that,” Martinez added.
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