Belgium v Portugal: Ronaldo a goal away from beating world record but holders face major challenge

By Sports Desk June 26, 2021

All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo again on Sunday as he looks to become the outright world-record holder for international goals, though being out of the focus will do Portugal's opponents Belgium no harm.

The Juventus star tied Ali Daei's long-standing record of 109 goals with a pair of penalties in Portugal's thrilling 2-2 draw with France, the result ensuring the Selecao reached the knockout phase.

One more will put Ronaldo out in front, while he may also have designs on chasing down Michel Platini's record for the most goals scored in a single European Championship (nine in Euro 84).

But despite Ronaldo's five goals thus far, it has been by no means plain sailing for Portugal, whose four points was the poorest group-stage haul for a defending European champion since Greece in 2008 (zero).

 

Fernando Santos' men arguably could not have picked a stronger opponent to face next as they prepare to tussle with Belgium in Seville on Sunday, and while Portugal put their faith in Ronaldo, former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is a similarly talismanic figure for Roberto Martinez.

"Going to Inter was the perfect move, at the perfect time, with a perfect coach, with a perfect dream of winning the Serie A title," Martinez told ESPN.

"I think that has developed Lukaku to a level that is, for me, the best in his career. For me – and you know I am biased – he is the best striker in the world."

Since the 2018 World Cup concluded, Lukaku has 23 goals in 21 games across all competitions for Belgium and is just one shy of equalling his best return at a major tournament (four, 2018 World Cup).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium – Kevin De Bruyne

As well as enthusing about Lukaku, Belgium coach Martinez has also declared midfielder De Bruyne to be the best in the world in his position – and few would disagree with that assertion. Although he has only played 134 minutes at Euro 2020, De Bruyne has had a hand in three of Belgium's seven goals (one goal, two assists). Add to that the fact his 71 chances created in major tournaments since the start of the 2014 World Cup is bettered by no European player, then perhaps it is Belgium who hold the trump card with De Bruyne, rather than Portugal with Ronaldo.

 

Portugal – Renato Sanches

Lille midfielder Sanches was brought into the team for the dropped Bruno Fernandes against France, and given how effective he was then, he will surely keep his place. Portugal really benefited from his well-rounded excellence: he made more ball recoveries than any other player on the pitch (eight), his three tackles was bettered by only Nelson Semedo among Portugal players and he was also key to their build-up play – his 38 passes in the opposing half was 11 more than any of his team-mates.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Ronaldo is now the top-scoring European player at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros), with his double against France moving him beyond Miroslav Klose (19) to 21 goals. Indeed, that was Ronaldo's second brace of Euro 2020 already – no player has ever registered three in a single tournament at the European Championship.

- Belgium's victory over Finland last time out marked their ninth win at the World Cup and Euros combined under Martinez, with the Spaniard now holding the outright managerial record for major tournament wins with the Red Devils.

- Portugal have conceded six goals in three games at Euro 2020, already one more than they did at Euro 2016 when they went on to lift the trophy (five goals conceded in seven games). The last time Portugal conceded two or more goals in three consecutive games was in February 2013 under Paulo Bento. They shipped four to Germany followed by two to France in their last two games.

- Belgium have reached the knockout stages in each of their last five appearances at a major tournament (Euros and World Cup), progressing to the semi-final in their previous one at the 2018 World Cup. Their defeat to eventual winners France in 2018 is the only one of their last 10 games at major tournaments that they have failed to win (W9).

- Belgium have only failed to score in two of their previous 58 games under Martínez, averaging exactly three goals per game in this stretch of fixtures (174 in total). The two games where they have been shut out came in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against France (losing 1-0) and in their most recent meeting with Portugal, a 0-0 draw in June 2018.

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