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Cristiano Ronaldo sends Portugal through to last 16 after Hungary thriller

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22-06-2016 Andy Brassell at Stade des Lumieres
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring Portugal’s second goal with Nani in a thrilling clash with Hungary in Lyon. © Getty Images Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring Portugal’s second goal with Nani in a thrilling clash with Hungary in Lyon.

“We draw together, we miss penalties together, today we win together,” said the banner high up in the stands in Lyon before kick-off. Even as he evolves into more and more of a penalty-box predator, such thinking is anathema to Cristiano Ronaldo. He singularly embraced his habitual position for Portugal of carrying the load single-handedly when others shrink here, ensuring his jittery team did the necessary by scraping a 3-3 draw against Bernd Storck’s lively Hungary.

So it is the outsiders who win Group F, and deserve to, after a mercurial game befitting the suddenly scorching heat in Lyon. Yet Ronaldo’s top billing is equally merited after his two-goal salvo. One game after setting a new appearance record for Portugal, beating Luís Figo’s tally of 127, Ronaldo became the first player to score in four European Championship finals. He also set a Euro finals appearance record of 17 here, a tribute to the fact that his brilliance is more than paralleled by his incredible perseverance. He never takes no for an answer.

Portugal had not lost in 10 previous meeting with the Magyars, dating back to 1926 but after a bright opening, found themselves in trouble from Hungary’s first meaningful attack. A corner was cleared to Zoltan Gera on the edge of the area, and the veteran had time and space to chest down and slam an immaculate half-volley past Rui Patrício. It nearly got much worse for Portugal, with Patrício sprawling to block from Akos Elek four minutes later as his defence hoped for an offside flag that never came.

By the half-hour Hungary were knocking the ball around merrily to olés from their impressively sized (and voiced) support. Ronaldo was reprising his role as the frustrated figure of Portugal’s opening two matches, limited to a couple of those familiar free-kick pot shots; one pushed away comfortably enough by Gabor Kiraly, the other looping harmlessly over the goalkeeper’s crossbar.

Yet he found a way, emerging in the less likely role of provider in the 42nd minute as his sublime pass cut out four defenders and allowed Nani – Portugal’s most dangerous player in the opening 45 minutes – to drive the equaliser past Kiraly at his near post.

Santos introduced Renato Sanches for the off-colour João Moutinho at the break, but his best-laid plans quickly went up in smoke. Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak – an authentic striker of a dead ball if ever there was one – curled a free-kick towards goal which took a big deflection off André Gomes’ shoulder and flew past Patrício.

Just as in the first half, Hungary nearly reinforced their advantage immediately, with Gergo Lovrencsics driving into the side netting. Instead, Portugal were level a minute later, with Ronaldo applying a tidy rabona finish at the near post to João Mário’s right-wing cross.

Nani was inches away from giving Portugal the lead in a breakneck opening to the second period when Dzsudzsak struck again in similar fashion to his first, smashing a left-footer in via a deflection off Nani after his free-kick was charged down. There were still only 10 minutes of the second period gone.

Santos made a necessarily daring change, introducing Ricardo Quaresma for André Gomes on the hour, and his impact was instant, with the Besiktas winger presenting his former Sporting stablemate with a simple header via a delicious cross.

By this point Portugal’s defence was a panicked shambles, with Elek hitting the inside of the post after another counter. Their only hope of ending this flirtation with a humiliating exit seemed to be playing the game in Hungary’s half, and both Ronaldo and Quaresma came close to putting them in front again.

As the crowd took a much-needed breather and the game entered its last 10 minutes, Santos finally made his first concession to circumspection, replacing Nani with an extra defensive anchor in Porto’s Danilo Pereira, knowing that a point would see his side through come what may. Portugal progress in third after Iceland’s last-gasp winner against Austria but like would-be opponents England, must quickly find their own identity if they are to progress further.

Watch: Euro 2016 fact of the day - Wayward Ronaldo

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