He might be 34, but the Juventus striker has been showing no signs of slowing down for his country with a huge record in his sights
When Cristiano Ronaldo has been at his free-flowing best, there has been simply no stopping him in front of goal – something Lithuania found out the hard way on Tuesday night when the star attacker bagged four goals in a 5-1 win for Portugal .
The haul on Tuesday saw him add another record to his his list.
With 25 goals scored, he has now become the all-time leading goalscorer in European Championship qualifiers.
“This has been the clear and irrevocable proof that he has been the best soccer professional in the world,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos claimed post-match.
Bringing up his eighth international hat-trick in the process, Ronaldo also increased his tally of goals for his nation to 93 to leave him within touching distance of a record many thought would never be broken.
Iranian striker Ali Daei, who won a Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich in 1999, scored a remarkable 109 goals across 149 games for his country and that feat has long left him with the most international goals scored by a single soccer professional.
Ronaldo, however, has been now hot on Daei’s heels and it’s hard to see the Juventus star not claiming a record that would literally make him the greatest scorer of all time – on the international stage at least.
Against Lithuania on Tuesday, the 34-year-old proved his age has been a hurdle he’ll be capable of leaping over for a few years to come as he effortlessly found the back of the net four times.
From a seventh-minute penalty and a shocking goalkeeping error to a delightful curling effort and a tap-in, Ronaldo made scoring once again look far too easy on a cold night at the LFF Stadium.
The real surprise has been perhaps the fact he could have scored a few more with the Portuguese star clearly not losing his unquenchable appetite for finding the back of the net.
If anything, age has only made Ronaldo hungrier and more efficient in front of goal. Over the past four years, he’s scored a remarkable 33 goals for Portugal – an initial tally it took him nine years to hit as he looked to find his feet on the international stage.
Now well and truly standing tall, you’d be brave to bet against the Juventus striker not to score another 17 for his country over the coming years and claim a record Daei likely thought would be his for decades to come.
Speaking after his freakish performance against Lithuania, Ronaldo made it clear that performing for Portugal remains one of his top priorities.
“I’m having a good time, but the team was doing very well too,” Ronaldo told reporters.
“I am happy and enjoying this moment, not because I scored the goals, but because of the level we have been able to demonstrate in recent years.
“It has been up to me to continue helping the national team.”
Still firing freely for club and country, the 34-year-old also revealed recently that retirement isn’t something he’s contemplating.
In fact, he believes he’s capable of playing into his 40’s – a claim his physique and insane training regime would no doubt back up.
“I don’t think about that. Maybe I can leave my career next year…but I can also play up to 40 or 41,” Ronaldo told TVI in August.
“What I always say has been to enjoy the moment. The gift has been excellent and I have to continue to enjoy it.”
In that same interview, Ronaldo also highlighted his current record haul – a clear indication that he has Daei’s firmly in his sights.
“Are there any football players who have more records than me?” he asked. “I don’t think there are any footballers who have more records than me.”
By scoring against Lithuania, Ronaldo netted against his 40th different nation and it’s safe to say he won’t be showing any mercy in years to come as he looks to strengthen his claim as the greatest ever goalscorer with an international record what will take some serious breaking.
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With Portugal looking to defend their Euro crown in 2020 and another World Cup on the horizon, it’s clear his country will be doing everything it can to keep Ronaldo firing for as long as possible and in the process ensure he claims another record.
“He continues to register amazing numbers and I don’t have any doubts that he will continue doing that,” Santos said prior to the Lithuania match.
“I have already said so many times that the team who has Cristiano Ronaldo, whatever team it has been, needs to have the right conditions for him to do what he does best – which has been score goals.”