5 Truths from Saturday’s World Cup qualifying action with Cristiano Ronaldo reaching another incredible landmark, while the Netherlands continue to flounder.
There’s just no stopping record-breaking Ronaldo
In netting against Hungary, Cristiano Ronaldo moved his season’s tally to a remarkable 35 goals for club and country. In mid-March, his record is simply unbelievable – and yet it is also entirely predictable. The stats tumbled in as Ronaldo netted a stunning brace – many of which seemed almost impossible. There is just no stopping the Real Madrid forward, who is always as fired up and passionate for qualifiers as he is at major tournaments, his motivation and production seemingly never wavering.
14 – Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 goals in 14 international games for 🇵🇹 since the start of 2016. Beast. pic.twitter.com/KMh5wgwQyb
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 25, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo has netted 8 goals in his last 3 home appearances for Portugal, equal to his tally in 12 home matches prior to this run
— Gracenote Live (@GracenoteLive) March 25, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo is the 2nd European footballer in history to both score 70+ goals AND make 100+ appearances at international level. pic.twitter.com/1eLz4u9DLm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 25, 2017
Portugal’s talisman seems to break records and chalk up landmarks at will nowadays. This brace saw him move fourth in the list of all-time (European) scorers in international football. He’s just one behind Miroslav Klose and five behind Sandor Kocsis. Ferenc Puskas is still way clear of the pack with 84 – but Ronaldo is only 32 and could conceivably play for his country for years to come. It’s a tall order, but when you’re as good as the Real Madrid star, it could yet become a reality. Watch this space…
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring against HungaryReuters
Netherlands in big trouble
The 3-1 win over Luxembourg in November kept Netherlands in second place behind Group A leaders France, but with Sweden in ominously-good form, Danny Blind’s side needed to win in Sofia to keep control of the potential playoff spot and maintain any hopes of finishing top. They failed.
5′: Bulgaria 1-0 Netherlands.
20′: Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands.
Spas Delev’s double means the visitors are in big trouble. pic.twitter.com/B4uUEyKDYV
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 25, 2017
Spas Delev’s first-half brace quickly put Blind’s men on the back foot at the Vasil Levski Stadion and it made for another miserable night for Dutch football as Sweden produced a fine performance in swatting aside Belarus 4-0 in emphatic fashion. The result for the Dutch was that Sweden and France assumed commanding positions at the top of the group with qualification seeming all the more difficult.
What France need is painfully clear: a leader
France are struggling without a leader. At the Euros, they had Paul Pogba out of position, and against Luxembourg he was suspended. They had Dimitri Payet who used to be brilliant, but now plays as if he is just happy to be away from West Ham. Patrice Evra is not going to be around for the 2018 World Cup, the closest leader to Churchill that France has ever produced.
Olivier Giroud scores his 22nd goal for France, taking him into the top 10 of his country’s all-time leading scorers pic.twitter.com/jf78ML6MvM
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 25, 2017
They needed a clinical Olivier Giroud in order to get past Luxembourg, who were there for the taking, and there was nobody on the pitch to increase the tempo or tell the rest of the side to sort themselves out. There’s plenty of time left, and Pogba might yet grow into the role, but France are in need of someone to lead by example.
Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring France’s first goal against Luxembourg with Djibril SidibeReuters
Martinez making the same mistakes again with Belgium
Turgid Belgium needed some life breathed into them after Marc Wilmots’ departure, but Roberto Martinez fell into the same old trap against Greece on Saturday night. The early signs had been good under the new manager, with a switch to a back-three the obvious solution to Belgium’s imbalanced squad. But old mistakes resurfaced this weekend, with Martinez putting out a team so devoid of a change of pace that it was no surprise to see them struggle to break down a compact Greek side.
The fact Roberto Martinez doesn’t start @mousadembele for Belgium says all you need to know about him as a coach !!
— Andy Bryan (@andybryan85) March 25, 2017
Nacer Chadli is a good player, but an international wing-back he is not. To play that position in this Belgium team, the one imperative quality is pace. But Chadli doesn’t have pace. And let’s not even get started on the decision to choose Marouane Fellaini over Mousa Dembele in central midfield. This Belgium generation could, and probably should, sweep up silverware, but they are in danger of being massively let down by the men in charge.
Portugal have finally found a goal poacher
A criticism of Portugal’s so-called ‘golden generation’ was the lack of an out-and-out goalscorer. This side have Ronaldo but he has often had to carry the burden on his own. Now, they have 21-year-old Andre Silva. He has netted five goals in six appearances for his country and is developing a partnership with Ronaldo that is helping A Selecao put opponents to the sword.
André Silva for the senior Portugal national side:
Not a bad return for the 21-year-old. pic.twitter.com/lHFI8zZOxR
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 25, 2017
Switzerland still have to come to Portugal in the group and you wouldn’t bet against Ronaldo and Co finishing top of the pile and avoiding a play-off scenario. Having finally found a goal poacher to complement Ronaldo, Portugal look very well set up indeed.