Cristiano Ronaldo no longer the story as balanced Portugal share attacking load

Ronaldo set up Fernandes for an easy finish after an unfortunate own goal proved Turkey’s undoing in Dortmund

Portugal's Bruno Fernandes celebrates with Ronaldo and Cancelo. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Group F: Portugal 3 (Silva 21, Akaydin og 28, Fernandes 56) Turkey 0

When Cristiano Ronaldo equalled Karel Poborský's record of eight assists at European Championship finals, a fanboy in the press box exclaimed: “Incredible, he didn’t have to do that.”

Well, he kind of did.

Bruno Fernandes had an open goal. And this has become Bruno’s team. To ignore him and miss would have reopened the wounds Portugal coach Roberto Martinez had managed to assuage since the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

This act of magnanimity by Ronaldo made it 3-0 and powers the Portuguese into the last 16 as Group F winners with an irrelevant game against Georgia in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday still to come.


Irrelevant to them. It remains of enormous importance to Wily Sagnol’s men following their 1-1 draw with the Czechia on Saturday.

After 45 minutes Turkey were burnt to a crisp. Portugal kept turning up the heat, with Ronaldo seeking to become the first and perhaps only person to score at six Euros. Try as he might, the 39-year-old is not the story any more.

Seleção das Quinas no longer solely rely on their record goal scorer and captain. He remains the most accomplished decoy runner in tournament football but the torture of Turkish right back Zeki Çelik, by Rafael Leão and Nuno Mendes, is what wins a Euros in 2024. That and Bernardo Silva’s unmarkable sprints into the box. And Bruno Fernandes controlling midfield. And the outstanding João Cancelo making up an impressive collection of Champions League muscle.

See Ronaldo’s role in the first goal. Sure, he had fashioned two half-chances for himself; a tame shot and weak header that barely troubled Manchester United reserve goalkeeper Altay Bayındır. But Turkey were carved open by Leão feeding the overlapping Mendes whose low delivery had Cristiano falling over while trying to check his dart to the front post. He was not the intended target of the cross; Silva’s late arrival swept it home.

Turkey stayed in the fight until a disastrous own goal from Samet Akaydin in the 28th minute. It only happened after a Portugal attack ended with Cancelo accusing Ronaldo of failing to read his ball into space. The danger had passed until Akaydin failed to lift his head before rolling a back pass to where he presumed Bayındır would be waiting.

Altay dashed back to the goal like a man who smells a cake burning. Zeki Çelik beat his goalkeeper to the line, scooping it clear after the damage was done.

Cancelo and Ronaldo both burst out laughing before hugging in celebration.

Having beaten Georgia last week, Turkey would be forgiven for throwing in the towel, especially with the Czechs waiting in Hamburg on Wednesday to see which nation secures second place in Group F.

Folding up the Turkish tent is not possible on days like these. The 2022 World Cup in Doha felt like a home tournament for Morocco as so many Diaspora work in the region. At least seven million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, with almost one million based in North Rhine-Westphalia. Maybe Turkey, like Morocco, can ride that wave to a semi-final, potentially back in Dortmund on July 10th.

The Portuguese and their distinctly separate Ronaldo fans, who travel in their thousands from North America and Asia, never stood a chance against the crowd crammed inside Borussia Dortmund’s stadium, as the locals made yet another German city feel like İstanbul.

Earlier Saturday, this reporter had a scary experience as the train from Düsseldorf was temporarily locked-down inside Dortmund central station while a suspicious device was removed from the platform.

The German police deserve credit for how they managed the situation, similar to how they co-ordinated a smooth escape for Spanish and Italian fans from Gelsenkirchen last Thursday night.

Both situations could easily have spilled out of control.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal reacts after a pitch invader attempts to take a selfie with him. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty

Ronaldo got an abusive welcome to Westfalenstadion before he even appeared. The locals presumed he was one of the three Portuguese goalkeepers coming out to warm-up before kick-off. When he did trot on to the grass the “Roooo” chant was drowned out by wolf-whistling.

It could have been so different. In the sixth minute, with a Turkish wave of noise breaking from above, Çelik squared for Kerem Aktürkoğlu. Cancelo and Rúben Dias were either side of the Galatasaray winger who proceeded to fluff his lines.

There were several security breaches before the end, first a small child raced onto the pitch, making it to the halfway line where he snapped a selfie with Ronaldo before dodging a few stewards. This prompted three more pitch invaders with one inadvertently leading to a steward bowling over Portugal forward Gonçalo Ramos.

“The intentions of the fans were good,” said Martinez. “But understand: there’s a difficult moment if their intentions are wrong. It shouldn’t happen - there’s a lot of security.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent