Ronaldo makes another World Cup as Portugal down North Macedonia
PORTO: There will be at least one more World Cup for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The all-time top scorer in men’s international football will get to play in his fifth World Cup after Portugal defeated North Macedonia 2-0 in the European qualifying playoffs on Tuesday.
“Goal accomplished,” Ronaldo said on Instagram after the match. “We made it to the World Cup in Qatar. We are where we deserve to be.”
This time there was no stunning late winner for North Macedonia to eliminate the traditional powerhouse like against European champions Italy last Thursday in Palermo.
Bruno Fernandes opened the scoring for the hosts after a pass by Ronaldo in the first half and added another goal in the second to secure Portugal’s place in the World Cup for the sixth straight time.
“This is a special victory,” Fernandes said. “We reached our goal, which was what mattered. Portugal has played better matches, but this one will stay in our memories because it gave us a place in the World Cup.”
After escaping the playoffs, Portugal will be a seeded team in Friday’s draw for football’s showcase event in November.
The 37-year-old Ronaldo will be playing in his 10th straight major tournament in a streak that started at Euro 2004. He has played in four World Cups and five Euros, winning the European title in 2016.
The highest scorer in men’s international football with 115 goals, Ronaldo is the only player to have scored at least once in the finals of nine top tournaments in a row.
Ronaldo and the rest of the squad gathered around a Portugal flag at midfield as the fans celebrated and sang the national anthem at the Estdio do Drago in Porto.
Ronaldo missed Portugal’s first good chance in a breakaway the 14th minute on Tuesday, then gave a soft pass to his Manchester United team-mate for the opening goal after a blunder by the North Macedonia defense in the 32nd. Fernandes entered the area and fired a low shot by the far post, then added to the lead from close range after a pass by Diogo Jota in the 65th.
LEWANDOWSKI INSPIRES POLAND
Robert Lewandowski stroked home a second-half penalty as Poland booked their berth in front of a fervent home crowd in Chorzow.
After the Poland captain converted a spot kick, Piotr Zielinski completed the scoring with a superb second goal for the hosts.
The Poles were awarded the crucial penalty just after half-time when midfielder Sebastian Szymanski rolled the ball to substitute Grzegorz Krychowiak, who was fouled by Jesper Karlstrom.
The referee pointed straight to the spot and Lewandowski casually arced his run, waited for Robin Olsen to move and then slotted the ball to the left of the Swedish goalkeeper.
It was his 75th goal for Poland and arguably one of his most important.
“It was really tough. I mean, this pressure!” Lewandowski said. “Even though I have taken many penalties in my career, this was one difficult. I knew this moment would have so much significance.”
Zielinski put the result beyond doubt when he capitalised on a slip by Sweden defender Marcus Danielson and sprinted clear.
He slotted his shot past Olsen with 18 minutes left to spark wild celebrations from the home crowd.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic came on for the final 10 minutes, but the 40-year-old Sweden striker was unable to influence the course of the match and will miss out on a third appearance at a World Cup finals.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2022