Portugal huff and puff and finally break Hungary down

Cristiano Ronaldo scores a late brace in front of more than 60,000 supporters in Budapest

Hungary 0 Portugal 3

The scoreline does no justice to Hungary’s effort but reflects history in the making. Cristiano Ronaldo marked his record appearance at a fifth European Championship as only he could – by also overtaking Michel Platini as the all-time leading goalscorer in the competition’s history. Portugal left it late. Their star man left his stamp yet again.

A gruelling, punishing opener for the holders turned into another celebration of Ronaldo’s extraordinary influence and longevity. Raphael Guerreiro, Portugal’s left-back, made the vital and fortunate breakthrough with six minutes remaining before Ronaldo took his Euros tally to 10 and 11 from the penalty spot and with a dazzling piece of footwork respectively. His brace took his total tally for Portugal to an incredible 106 goals. He now requires only three to equal the all-time international record of Iran’s Ali Daei. It was a noteworthy occasion on and off the pitch in Budapest.

The political machinations behind allowing over 60,000 fans inside the stadium had stirred controversy in Hungary but the sight and sound of a raucous full house was incredibly powerful. Even the piercing whistles that greeted Ronaldo’s every touch felt like a step back towards normality.


The logistics involved in the operation were considerable. Every supporter, including the estimated 4,500 from Portugal, had to produce proof of a negative Covid test to enter the perimeter of the stadium grounds. Arrival times were staggered to ease congestion. If there was any apprehension among those with tickets, it was clearly not experienced by the hundreds of hardcore Hungarian fans in black-t-shirts who linked arms and bounced behind Peter Gulacsi’s goal in the first half. The appeals to maintain social distancing that came over the PA system always did sound far-fetched in an arena housing the biggest attendance witnessed in European football for 15 months.

Marco Rossi’s limited team fed off the fierce backing. “They will use all their best weapons against us,” Fernando Santos had predicted on the eve of the game. Getting in the face of the Portuguese players was evidently part of their armoury. The hosts snapped into every challenge from the first whistle, often leaving a little in to rattle their more celebrated opponents. It worked on occasion and Diogo Jota lost his temper early in an on-going feud with Gergo Lovrencsics. An authoritarian approach is not confined to Hungary’s government. With the ball, however, Hungary constructed little.

Portugal may have been knocked off their stride by sheer force at times but were entirely responsible for failing to convert superior technical quality into a first half lead. Santos started with a front line laden with goals, creativity and elite experience with Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Jota behind roving record-breaker Ronaldo. He had every right to expect more than they delivered. Fernandes was largely anonymous in the opening 45 minutes as the Manchester United playmaker struggled to find space in front of Hungary’s crowded defence. Silva likewise. Jota was prominent on the left but a poor touch or the wrong final ball limited his effectiveness. Ronaldo, of all people, squandered a gilt-edged chance to put the visitors ahead moments before the break.

There was a lack of cohesion among the front four yet enough opportunity to silence the majority of the crowd. Jota forced Gulacsi into his first save in the fifth minute after racing on to Silva’s through ball. Ronaldo, unmarked to the left of the Liverpool forward, let him know what he felt of the decision to shoot. Jota also miscued a volley wide when connecting with Fernandes’ free-kick unmarked inside the area. His third chance of the half, a shot on the turn following a neat combination between Nélson Semedo and Silva down the right, was blocked by the knee of Gulacsi. Silva was unable to capitalise when released inside the area by Ronaldo. The Manchester City midfielder seemed uncertain as to whether to shoot or cross and was dispossessed by a fine Willi Orban tackle.

The clearest chance fell to Ronaldo when Fernandes drilled a low cross into the penalty area and the captain, completely free inside the six-yard box, side-footed over from point-blank range. He may have been surprised to receive the ball after Jota attempted and failed to connect at the neat post but, even so, it was an astonishing miss by the joint leading goalscorer in the competition’s history.

Hungary did not have an attempt of any description until the 36th minute when towering captain Adam Szalai headed a free-kick straight into the arms of the under-employed Rui Patrício. They posed a far greater threat after the interval, however, when, playing as a unit and not to the demands of the crowd, Rossi’s side unnerved Portugal’s experienced back-line with ease. Adam Szalai and Andras Schafer both tested the visiting goalkeeper before substitute Szabolcs Schon sparked pandemonium when he cut in from the left and beat Patrício at his near post with a blistering drive. In the chaos, that involved flares being set off in the stands and a fan running on to the pitch, few noticed that referee Cuneyt Cakir had disallowed the effort for offside. The Hungarians were still coming to terms with the deflation when their evening deteriorated even further.

Guerreiro finally broke the deadlock six minutes from time when substitute Rafa Silva’s cross deflected into his path inside the area and his weak shot deflected in off Orban. The wrong-footed Gulacsi had no chance. Two minutes later the highly effective Rafa Silva was felled in the box by Orban and Ronaldo had his moment for history from the penalty spot. He seized it, sending the Hungary keeper the wrong way with a powerful shot to his left before celebrating in trademark style near the corner flag. There was still time for the luxury of a second when, after exchanging passes with Rafa Silva twice, he danced around Gulacsi before converting into an empty net. History made. Eventually. - Guardian