Ronaldo breaks world record and Ireland’s hearts as Portugal seal late, late win

Portuguese star scores two late goals after having earlier had a penalty saved

Cristiano Ronaldo celebreates after scoring his second goal in stoppage time to secure a win for Portugal over Ireland. Photograph: Antonio Cotrim/EPA

Cristiano Ronaldo celebreates after scoring his second goal in stoppage time to secure a win for Portugal over Ireland. Photograph: Antonio Cotrim/EPA

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Portugal 2 Republic of Ireland 1

At the death, Cristiano Ronaldo snatched a draw and then victory from an Irish effort that almost went beyond heroism. How they lift themselves for Azerbaijan and Serbia next week at the Aviva is unfathomable.

Stephen Kenny must feel truly cursed. At least the fans are returning with them.

One sure way for this Irish generation to erase the shame of losing at home to Luxembourg was to beat Portugal on the Algarve. With 88 minutes on the clock, Ronaldo put paid to that dreamy notion with a downward header that gave him a world record 110th goal.

The 111th was another header as he proved at 36, Manchester United are still getting the true special one.

The only place to begin is John Egan’s headed goal entering a clump of first-half injury time caused by all the mayhem before Ronaldo’s missed penalty.

Jamie McGrath, on his competitive debut, spun a corner to the front post that Egan expertly guided to the net after the Sheffield United centre half beat Ronaldo to the punch. Perhaps Pepe and the other Portuguese heavies were preoccupied by the presence of human lighthouse Shane Duffy.

Truth be told, one-nil to Ireland really could have been 3-0 or 4-0 to Portugal at the turn if Diogo Jota had taken any one of three glorious chances. Or Ronaldo’s spot kick was not brilliantly saved by Gavin Bazunu.

John Egan heads the Republic of Ireland into the lead during the World Cup qualifier at Estadio Algarve in Almancil. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
John Egan heads the Republic of Ireland into the lead during the World Cup qualifier at Estadio Algarve in Almancil. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Kenny’s squad have been disrespected at every turn. They freely admit the results have been shockingly poor since the Dubliner unceremoniously replaced Mick McCarthy in April 2020, but coronavirus has stubbornly refused to leave them alone.

News broke that Shane Long had tested positive seconds before the team was released with two goalkeepers on the bench and, mysteriously, no Nathan Collins or Ronan Curtis.

A solitary Irish flag yelled “WE ARE BALLYBRACK – be not afraid” behind the Portugal goal. Ballybrack Seagulls FC were, somehow, in a stadium that had banned Irish fans.

Pre-match, in a sign of the times, both teams played five against six in narrow confines. The Irish were engaged in an impressive two-touch affair. That is, until glancing at one-touch magicians Ronaldo and Pepe – combined age 74 – keeping the ball away from some of the most skilled technicians on the planet.

Ireland were determined to play football but this meant that Portugal could manipulate them and isolate the teenage goalkeeper.

Bazunu, on loan to Portsmouth from Manchester City, is an impressive distributor in the third tier of English football but Jota pressed him into a weak pass to no one before disaster struck.

There was 9:36 on the clock when Jeff Hendrick cut down Bruno Fernandes, following Bazunu’s second brain freeze under pressure, but the clock neared 15 minutes when Ronaldo did a decent impression of Marcus Rashford’s run up in the Euros final.

Bazunu dived to his right to deny the Portuguese captain but there is a strong argument to suggest Ronaldo should have been sent off in disgrace.

When Slovenian referee Matej Jug took Hendrick to one side to show him a yellow card, Dara O’Shea collapsed to earth clutching his face.

Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is congratulated by team-mates after saving Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty kick during the World Cup qualifier. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is congratulated by team-mates after saving Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty kick during the World Cup qualifier. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Séamus Coleman was insisting that VAR prove that the Newcastle United midfielder got a piece of the ball before slicing into Fernandes. VAR disagreed but, back on the penalty spot, O’Shea toe poked the ball off the chalk. So Ronaldo slapped him in the face. O’Shea glanced around for an official before falling to ground as all the players came together. Coleman was in the thick of it. Ronaldo avoided sanction.

There was another debate before this crazy scene could end with Jug considering whether Bazunu moved before the strike but Coleman’s eyeballing ended that idea. The skipper also cleared the corner.

A real bite was evident from then on, with Egan putting himself about, particularly in his battle with Rafa Silva, as he had the game of his life.

The son of Kerry GAA royalty had to be a colossus as O’Shea appeared to suffer a bad injury when belting Jota on the half-hour. Another teenager, Andrew Omobamidele, made a solid Ireland debut before his Premier League bow for Norwich City.

Aaron Connolly’s energy and clever runs asked the right questions of Pepe’s ageing legs, even if his shooting and final touch were poor. The Galway man had a real chance just before half-time but he held possession a split-second too long and an attempted scoop over Rui Patrício was blocked for the corner that led to Egan’s goal.

Portugal’s rapid link play seemed destined to break Ireland’s steely resolve. Jota had some glorious chances to score but a header hit the post, while in first-half injury-time Bazunu spilled the Liverpool striker’s low shot before reclaiming the ball a millimetre before it rolled over the line.

The heroics had to keep coming for most of the second half with Duffy flinging his body into Raphaël Guerreiro’s rasping shot.

Remarkably, Egan appeared in Portugal’s box near the hour mark to nod down Adam Idah’s cross for Connolly to miss the target.

Bernardo Silva will forever wonder how he skied an open shot on 74 minutes as a jaded Irish defence somehow clung to the lead.

Ronaldo, though, never lets tired legs off the hook.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bazunu (Portsmouth); Coleman (Everton, capt), Egan (Sheffield United), Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur); Hendrick (Newcastle United), Cullen (Anderlecht), McGrath (St Mirren); Connolly (Brighton), Idah (Norwich City).

Subs: Omobamidele (Norwich City) for O’Shea (35 mins), McClean (Wigan Athletic) for Connolly (72 mins), J Collins (Cardiff City) for Idah, Molumby (West Brom) for McGrath (both 90 mins).

PORTUGAL: Patrício (Roma); Cancelo (Manchester City), Pepe (Porto), Dias (Manchester City), Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund); Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Palhinha (Sporting), Fernandes (Manchester United); Ronaldo (Manchester United, capt), Jota (Liverpool), Rafa Silva (Benfica) .

Subs: Andre Silva (RB Leipzig) for Rafa Silva (half-time), Mendes (PSG) for Guerreiro (62), Joao Mario (Benfica) for B Fernandes (both 62 mins), João Moutinho (Wolves) for Palhinha (73), Gonçalo Guedes (Valencia) for Cancelo (82).

Referee: Matej Jug (Slovenia).

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