Ronaldo’s penalties take Portugal through after thrilling draw with France
Portugal occupied every position in Group F at various stages of an epic contest in Budapest. At the precise moment Cristiano Ronaldo faced Hugo Lloris for the second time from the penalty spot, the European champions were out of the Euros. He also had the small matter of equalling the all-time international goalscoring record set by Iran’s Ali Daei at his feet. The weight of history, and of responsibility, does not faze a legend. Ronaldo swept home goal 109 and Portugal through.
France also had a two-goal inspiration in Karim Benzema, who silenced the debate over his importance to Didier Deschamps’ team with a commanding performance. The Real Madrid forward struck his first goals for France since his international exile ended after almost six years and, while the world champions have yet to truly hit their stride, a first-place finish in this group does not represent a shabby start.
France advance to meet Switzerland in Bucharest on Monday. Portugal’s reward for claiming third, helped by Germany’s recovery against Hungary, is a mouthwatering match with Belgium in Seville on Sunday. Anything close to the level of this encounter and Europe is in for a treat.
A dramatic meeting of the reigning European and world champions satisfied lofty expectations. There were three penalties, all converted, there was an outstanding finish from Benzema, an incredible double save from Rui Patrício in the Portugal goal, elegant brilliance from Paul Pogba in the France midfield and an injury-time penalty-claim from Kingsley Coman rejected by VAR. And, of course, in keeping with the magnitude of the occasion, there was Ronaldo creating slices of history yet again.
“Football is pure magic,” said Deschamps. No one who witnessed this encounter could disagree. “From one second to another the emotions can change and the morale of a team can switch quickly. It was a match on the top level. We are first in the group. Maybe other teams have given a better impression than France so far but now it is the last 16 and a new competition is starting.”
Fernando Santos cut an anxious figure from the outset but the changes he made in response to losing 4-2 to Germany, introducing the experience of João Moutinho and thrust of Renato Sanches at the expense of the disappointing Bruno Fernandes and William Carvalho, brought considerable improvement. Portugal – stronger, more solid and better balanced – were the sharper team when they went ahead and to the top of the group.
When Moutinho swept a free-kick into the heart of the France area Hugo Lloris flew out fist first, as goalkeepers often do, and caught Danilo flush on the jaw. Champions League final referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz immediately pointed to the spot and showed Lloris a yellow card. The France keeper protested his innocence, arguing it was a genuine attempt to clear the ball, but he was late and dangerous. Ronaldo made no mistake with his second penalty of the competition, sending Lloris the wrong way to register his first goal against France in seven attempts.
It was also his 20th goal in European Championship and World Cup finals games, another record. France were shaken. Their cohesion evaporated and discipline started to lapse, with Lucas Hernandez and Antoine Griezmann booked in quick succession. 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 the Wolves keeper pushed away his attempted curler.
Mbappé was central to the equaliser. Having found Pogba inside, the Paris Saint Germain forward darted into the area and collapsed under the slightest touch from Nélson Semedo’s shoulder as he pursued the midfielder’s measured chip. VAR backed the referee’s penalty decision, much to the disgust of Portugal’s players and a combusting Santos, and Benzema converted an emphatic spot-kick.
His second was not long in coming. Benzema’s form, or rather the cohesion of France’s attack with Griezmann and Mbappé alongside him, has been under intense scrutiny throughout the Euros. “As soon as he does score the water will start flowing,” Griezmann had insisted.
He was correct. 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 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 returned to Benzema’s face as teammates ran back to congratulate him.
With Hungary winning in Germany, Portugal 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. The ball struck Koundé’s arm and Lahoz’s pointed in a familiar direction. At that point everything was resting on Ronaldo’s accuracy and nerve. He sent Lloris the wrong way once again to become the joint-leading goalscorer in the history of men’s international football. An astonishing achievement from an astonishing player.
France lost two left-backs to injury, Lucas Digne having to be substituted with a thigh problem five minutes after replacing Lucas Hernandez, and Pogba almost restored their lead with a superb shot from 25 yards that Rui Patrício somehow tipped on to a post before leaping up to thwart Griezmann from the rebound. Rúben Dias applauded while the ball was still in play. It was that kind of night. Wonderful.