Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated becoming the most-capped men's player of all time with a double as Portugal thrashed Liechtenstein 4-0 in Roberto Martinez's first game.

Ronaldo scored just once at last year's World Cup, and there had been doubts over whether he would return for Portugal's Euro 2024 qualification campaign.

But having been named as captain in Martinez's starting XI for Thursday's match at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Ronaldo scored twice in the space of 12 minutes – a cool penalty followed by a wicked free-kick – to help cap an emphatic win and mark his record appearance in style.

Ronaldo's goals followed strikes from Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva as Portugal got off to the simplest of starts in Group J.

Liechtenstein's resistance lasted just eight minutes. The visitors failed to clear their lines following Bruno Fernandes' corner, and Cancelo's deflected strike from the edge of the area squirmed under Benjamin Buchel.

Ronaldo squandered two golden opportunities to extend Portugal's lead, firing over when one-on-one with Buchel before sending a free header wide.

Portugal's wait for a second ended 68 seconds after the restart, Silva on hand to tuck home after a cross was blocked into his path, and Ronaldo had his goal four minutes later.

Jens Hofer clumsily felled Cancelo, with Ronaldo drilling the resultant penalty into the bottom-left corner.

The offside flag cut Ronaldo's celebrations short when he prodded in from close range, but a superb 63rd-minute free-kick had too much power on it for Buchel.

There was no hat-trick for Ronaldo, who made way in the 78th minute, with the job done for new boss Martinez.

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo has become the most-capped men's international footballer of all time.

The Al Nassr forward won his 197th cap in Thursday's opening Euro 2024 qualifier against Liechtenstein, moving him one clear of Kuwait forward Bader Al-Mutawa.

Malaysia's Soh Chin Ann (195 caps) is third on the list, with Ahmed Hassan (184) and Ahmed Mubarak (183) of Egypt and Oman respectively completing the top five.

Ronaldo had equalled Al-Mutawa's record when featuring for Portugal in their World Cup quarter-final defeat to Morocco in December.

Speaking ahead of the meeting with Liechtenstein at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Ronaldo revealed he contemplated retiring from international football after that defeat.

But he was named in new head coach Roberto Martinez's first squad and made more history when appearing against minnows Liechtenstein in Lisbon.

Ronaldo, who also holds the record for most men's international goals (118), earned his first cap in 2003 when replacing Luis Figo in a friendly against Kazakhstan.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who won Euro 2016 with Portugal, has played against Luxembourg (10 games) more times than any other nation, followed by Spain (nine).

Luxembourg are also the country Ronaldo has scored against the most, finding the net nine times, while he has scored seven times against Lithuania and Sweden.

He has played 47 times for Portugal at major tournaments – 25 times at the European Championships and 22 at the World Cup – and is hopeful of featuring at Euro 2024.

"My biggest wish is to be able to take Portugal as high as possible," Ronaldo said on Wednesday. "I will always play my part when needed.

"Earning records is always a positive thing and it motivated me. I like to break records and will now break another special one. It makes me very proud.

"But beyond [Thursday] I still have plenty of games left. Let's see if the coach still wants to count on me to be available."

Cristiano Ronaldo is confident the Saudi Pro League can become one of the world's best competitions in the years to come.

The Portugal captain joined Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr in the aftermath of the 2022 World Cup, with his second spell with Manchester United brought an abrupt end prior to the tournament in Qatar.

A free agent after the Selecao's quarter-final exit at the hands of Morocco, Ronaldo promptly moved to the Middle East and has quickly settled, scoring nine goals in eight Pro League appearances.

While widely considered a weaker league than those in Europe, Ronaldo believes those matches have prepared him for Portugal duty and expects the reputation of the Saudi top flight to improve in time.

"I feel really good," he said ahead of Portugal's Euro 2024 qualifier against Liechtenstein. "That's why I'm here. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be.

"I'm in a very competitive league. They should look at the Saudi championship differently.

"Obviously, it's not like the Premier League, I'd be lying if I said it was, but it's competitive. I'm surprised by the strength. It has good teams, it is balanced, the Arab players are good, the foreigners give quality.

"Possibly it will be, in five to six years' time, if they continue this plan, the fourth or fifth most competitive league in the world."

Ronaldo's return to United had not ended well as he fell out with Erik ten Hag and fired shots at the club in a no-holds-barred interview while still contracted at Old Trafford.

"Sometimes you have to go through a few things to see who's on my side," he said on Wednesday. "At a difficult stage, you see who is on your side.

"I have no problem saying I've had a bad time in my career, but there's no time for regrets.

"Life goes on and, doing well or not, it was part of my growth. When we're at the top of the mountain, we often can't see what's down.

"Now I am more prepared and this learning was important, because I had never been through this as in the last few months. Now I'm a better man."

Cristiano Ronaldo has revealed he considered international retirement following the World Cup in Qatar.

Portugal crashed out at the quarter-final stage after defeat against Morocco, with Ronaldo losing his spot in the starting line-up for the knockout stages.

Fernando Santos dropped Ronaldo to the bench for the last-16 tie against Switzerland, with his replacement Goncalo Guedes scoring a hat-trick in a dominant 6-1 victory.

Ronaldo would continue as a substitute for the clash with Morocco, which almost spelled the end of his Portugal career.

"I'm not going to lie. In our life, we have to put everything on the scale," Ronaldo said ahead of a Euro 2024 qualifier against Liechtenstein.

"We thought, we reflected, me and my family, but then we came to the conclusion that, despite the difficulties, we cannot throw in the towel. I was able to see situations at different angles. I learned a lot from that.

"I'm glad to be back. Roberto Martinez showed that he counted on me. I've always wanted to play. As you know, he talked to everyone and to me, too. And I was able to realise that I have a lot to give to the national team.

"I feel it, I want it, and my desire is to take Portugal to the highest level. I will always give my contribution when they need me."

Al Nassr were inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo's excellent free-kick as they fought back to beat Abha 2-1.

Ronaldo hammered home a free-kick from around 30 yards out in the 78th minute of Saturday's Saudi Pro League clash.

The 38-year-old picked out the bottom-left corner with his dipping effort, cancelling out Abdulfattah Adam's 26th-minute opener.

With Abha down to 10 men after Zakaria Al Sudani picked up his second booking, Talisca's penalty completed the turnaround, seeing Al Nassr beat the visitors for the second time in the space of four days after a victory in the Kings Cup in midweek.

Al Nassr are second in the Pro League, a point behind Al Ittihad, who they lost to on March 9.

"Great to get the win and so happy to score here in our stadium with our fans," Ronaldo posted on social media.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been named in the first Portugal squad announced by new head coach Roberto Martinez.

The former Belgium boss replaced Fernando Santos, who called time on his eight-year stint at the helm following Portugal's quarter-final elimination at the 2022 World Cup at the hands of Morocco.

Santos benched Ronaldo for both knockout games in Qatar – a comprehensive 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions.

Ahead of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2024, Martinez has opted for continuity with just two of the players selected for games against Liechtenstein and Luxembourg not featuring at the World Cup.

Ronaldo joined Saudi Pro League side Al Nassr in December after having his contract at Manchester United terminated, scoring eight goals in seven games so far, and Martinez believes the 38-year-old can still be an important figure for his country.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is a player who is very committed to the national team," the Spaniard said. "A player like Cristiano brings experience, he is an important figure in the team. I don't look at age or other aspects.

"I think Cristiano has an opportunity to help the team and transmit the experience of his career to the other players."

Portugal will compete in Group J of Euro 2024 qualifying along with Iceland, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, and Martinez is optimistic about the Selecao's future.

"I want to build a team that shows the qualities of the players Portugal has," he said. "This is a starting point. I see quality, experience, youth, players that play at home and also abroad. I've seen a lot of commitment from all of them for the national team."

Portugal squad: Diogo Costa (Porto), Jose Sa (Wolves), Rui Patricio (Roma); Diogo Dalot (Manchester United), Joao Cancelo (Bayern Munich), Danilo Pereira, Nuno Mendes (both Paris Saint-Germain), Pepe (Porto), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Antonio Silva (Benfica), Goncalo Inacio (Sporting CP), Diogo Leite (Union Berlin) Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund); Joao Palhinha (Fulham), Ruben Neves, Matheus Nunes (both Wolves), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Joao Mario (Benfica), Otavio Monteiro (Porto), Vitinha (PSG); Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nassr), Goncalo Ramos (Benfica), Joao Felix (Chelsea), Rafael Leao (Milan), Diogo Jota (Liverpool).

There is uncertainty at Paris Saint-Germain due to fears over further financial fair play sanctions, leading to speculation of numerous players being sold or offloaded.

L'Equipe claimed earlier this week that PSG had put on hold contract negotiations with Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi.

Messi is contracted with PSG until the end of this season, although he reportedly had come to a verbal agreement with the club in December.

Back in September, the Ligue 1 leaders were hit with a €10million fine for FFP violations after the 2020-21 season with a further €45m suspended for any future infringements.

TOP STORY – MESSI'S OFFER TO ECLIPSE RONALDO'S RECORD

Marca reports Lionel Messi is set to receive a world-record €220million (£193m) per year offer from an unnamed Saudi Arabian club.

Messi's contemporary rival Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr in January in a deal worth €200m, the highest football salary in history.

The Mirror claims the unnamed club is Al Hilal. The Argentinian has constantly been linked with the MLS too.

ROUND-UP

–  Barcelona head coach Xavi has been in touch with Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan about a move, with his contract running out at the end of this season, claims AS.

– Calciomercato claims Marco Verratti is weighing up a move away from Paris Saint-Germain following recent criticism. Verratti penned a contract extension until 2026 recently.

Manchester United are pondering tabling a £105m offer for Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani, per Sport Bild.

– Mundo Deportivo claims Manchester United are interested in Barcelona's Franck Kessie as a midfield partner for Casemiro, while Tottenham and Chelsea are also circling for him.

Arsenal are interested in Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard who may be available for a cut price with his current deal due to expire in 2024, reports Fichajes.

Paul Pogba is eager to remain at Juventus despite battling injuries throughout this season, claims 90min.

Cristiano Ronaldo suffered his first Saudi Pro League defeat on Thursday as Al Ittihad claimed a 1-0 win to replace Al Nassr at the top of the table.

Al Nassr had not lost any of their five league games since Ronaldo's debut on February 3, drawing his first match before racking up four successive wins.

But that run came to an end against their title rivals at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

Romarinho got the only goal of the game in the 80th minute, rounding off a devastating counter-attack.

The forward brilliantly brought down Ahmed Sharahili's right-wing delivery on the edge of the box, his first touch taking a defender out of the game before a cool finish sparked jubilant celebrations.

Al Nassr coach Rudi Garcia tried to focus on the positives, however.

"We are disappointed because we did not deserve to lose," he said

"Al Ittihad scored a goal the way they like, on the counter-attack. The league is still long. We are now behind Al Ittihad by a point.

"I am happy with my team. We played in a difficult stadium in front of a strong audience, and yet we played with a wonderful personality."

 

Erik ten Hag did not lose sleep over his decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire to the bench for Manchester United's clash with Liverpool back in August.

After starting their Premier League campaign with successive defeats to Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford – the second of those losses a 4-0 reverse – United kick-started their season by beating Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford.

United have only got better since under Ten Hag, who claimed his first trophy as Red Devils boss last week when his side saw off Newcastle United 2-0 in the EFL Cup final.

They head into Sunday's meeting with Liverpool at Anfield in third place, 10 points ahead of their sixth-placed hosts.

Ten Hag made two big calls by leaving Ronaldo and club captain Maguire out of his side in the reverse fixture, but he has no regrets over that decision, and suggested that would be the case even if the result had been different.

"I have to see and to face the consequences of it. The impact from the decisions, not only on the short term but on the longer term, of course," he said in a press conference.

"I think you always have to think statistically and [consider] what is the consequence in the longer term. I am aware of it but that's my job and that's the responsibility I have to take.

"I had reasons, they were obvious. And I knew also the consequence and also when it was a negative outcome from that game, which always is possible in football.

"But I'm not worrying. I sleep well, also on those nights, and I have to take decisions in respect of the team and the club. That is my job and that is the responsibility I have to take and I have to stand for those decisions."

Ten Hag's decision paid off, though while Maguire – who turned 30 on Sunday – has remained at Old Trafford as a bit-part player, Ronaldo left the club in November after an inflammatory interview in which he criticised United's manager.

While Ronaldo has departed, his former Real Madrid club-mate Casemiro has been an emphatic success since his arrival.

"I had a player in Ajax who set such standards, but definitely Casemiro in this team, he is such a leader and he is so important for us," Ten Hag replied when asked if he had ever coached a player like Casemiro.

"Not only with his performances, skills, like scoring a goal, or his header, or like linking up or intercepting balls. Organisation, the mentality, the culture, and we are so happy that we signed him.

"I think when you go to recruitment, we were looking for players with character, with personality and it was not only about signing a player – there are a lot of players in the world that have great skills. We are looking for players who have character. Players who have personality, who have leadership, who take responsibility, who are resilient."

Indeed, there has been no surprise for Ten Hag when it comes to Casemiro's quality.

He said: "I knew what a magnificent player he was. Just look through his profile. You see all the cups he won and that's not [a] coincidence.

"You have players who win, and win always, and players who lose and always lose. Of course, you have to do your research and find that type who will win and who are cooperative in the dressing room to be humble but when they are on the pitch they take responsibility and you can sit on the bench and you are composed."

Cristiano Ronaldo has pledged his Player of the Month Award in the Saudi Pro League will be "the first of many" after winning the accolade with Al Nassr.

The Portugal forward, who made the move to the competition following his exit from Manchester United in November, made a quiet start to life with the club in January.

But following his first full month with Rudi Garcia's side, in which he scored two hat-tricks and totalled eight goals in four appearances, he looks to have fully settled into life with them.

Ahead of Al Nassr's 3-1 win against Al Batin on Friday, Ronaldo was presented with the monthly award, and promised it would not be the last one he claimed on social media.

"Happy to win the February Player of the Month Award for the Saudi League," he wrote. "Hopefully the first of many! Proud to be part of this team."

Ronaldo's first strike for the club came with a point-clinching penalty in a dramatic 2-2 draw against Al Fateh on February 3, before he scored all four goals in their 4-0 win over Al Wehda six days later.

Though he drew a blank in their 2-1 win over Al Taawoun, he set up both of his side's goals, supplying assists for Abdulrahman Ghareeb and Abdullah Madu on February 17.

The 38-year-old capped his excellent month with another hat-trick, this time in a 3-0 victory against Damac on February 25, to help keep Al Nassr in the thick of the title race.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr scored three goals in injury time to earn a stunning 3-1 win over Al Batin and move top of the Saudi Pro League on Friday.

Ronaldo's side were 1-0 down and looked to be on their way to a first defeat in five matches against an Al Batin team sat bottom of the league and with just one win all season.

But Abdulrahman Ghareeb levelled in the 93rd minute, before Mohammed Al Fatil dramatically put Al Nassr ahead in the 12th minute of additional time.

The points were made safe two minutes later, as Ghareeb set up Mohammed Maran to add a third and move Al Nassr to the top of the table.

Despite his team's spectacular comeback, Ronaldo failed to register a goal involvement for the first time in five matches.

It was not for the want of trying though, as the five-time Ballon d'Or winner had a team-high seven shots, though he hit the target just once.

Ronaldo picked up the league's player of the month award before kick-off, after scoring eight goals and adding two assists during February as his team went unbeaten.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr scored three goals in injury time to earn a stunning 3-1 win over Al Batin and move top of the Saudi Pro League on Friday.

Ronaldo's side were 1-0 down and looked to be on their way to a first defeat in five matches against an Al Batin team sat bottom of the league and with just one win all season.

But Abdulrahman Ghareeb levelled in the 93rd minute, before Mohammed Al Fatil dramatically put Al Nassr ahead in the 12th minute of additional time.

The points were made safe two minutes later, as Ghareeb set up Mohammed Maran to add a third and move Al Nassr to the top of the table.

Despite his team's spectacular comeback, Ronaldo failed to register a goal involvement for the first time in five matches.

It was not for the want of trying though, as the five-time Ballon d'Or winner had a team-high seven shots, though he hit the target just once.

Ronaldo picked up the league's player of the month award before kick-off, after scoring eight goals and adding two assists during February as his team went unbeaten.

Marcus Rashford's remarkable resurgence on the pitch is completely unrelated to the Manchester United departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, according to club great Andrew Cole.

Rashford scored United's second in Sunday's 2-0 EFL Cup final win over Newcastle United, as the Red Devils ended a trophy drought that stretched back almost six years.

That was his 25th goal of the season across all competitions, already three more than his previous best return for a full campaign, and United still have at least 17 matches to play in 2022-23.

Rashford has looked more confident and threatening all season, but his form has hit new heights since the World Cup – in that time, his 17 goals (all competitions) is five more than any other player from the top five leagues, and he is one of only two (Victor Osimhen, 11) to reach double figures for non-penalty (np) goals (16).

Those come from a np-xG (expected goals) of just 8.0, meaning he is scoring twice as many goals as the average player would expect given the quality of his chances.

Rashford's positive 8.0 np-xG differential since the World Cup considerably exceeds that of every other player from the top five leagues, with James Ward Prowse second on 4.3 (six np goals, 1.7 np-xG).

This is a far cry from Rashford's form last season when his goals frequency of 0.27 per 90 minutes was the worst of his United career – the 0.78 goals every 90 minutes this term is comfortably his best such return.

Given the biggest upturn in Rashford's form has come since the World Cup, some have speculated whether Ronaldo's exit – which was confirmed during Qatar 2022 – has had something to do with it.

But Cole, a treble winner with United in 1999, refuses to accept that, convinced there is a simpler explanation.

He told Stats Perform: "I'm an individual. I'm not going to get involved in the Ronaldo thing because he left. Ronaldo wasn't there 18 months ago when Marcus Rashford was struggling.

"So, because Ronaldo's left now, all of a sudden [there's a perception] it's because he's left. It doesn't make sense for me. When Ronaldo wasn't at the club, Marcus found himself in a bit of form that he couldn't get himself out of, so I'm not having that.

"The [Erik] Ten Hag effect, I think. No doubt, the manager will be believing in him, telling him how good he is. But ultimately, as individuals, he could have taken his eye off the ball a little bit with what he was doing off the field.

"It could have been a little bit of that as well, but to see him in this really fit form now, the way he's playing, I think it's testament to him. For me, personally, it doesn't really matter what anyone else does with you.

"Monday to Friday, once you cross the white line, it's you as an individual, and also Monday to Friday, someone's telling you how great you are.

"If you don't believe how great you are, once you cross the white line, it makes no difference what anyone else tells you because you've got to tell yourself that.

"I'm looking at him now, he seems to be telling himself, 'I'm at that level that I want to be at'. That's why he's playing so well."

But with spells of such form from one individual come questions of dependency, or over reliance.

Since the World Cup, no team across the top five leagues has scored more than United (43), while their average of 2.3 every game sees them rank sixth, which again is commendable given the top five have all played at least six games less than Ten Hag's side.

However, no other United player has scored more than seven goals (all competitions) this season. While Ten Hag has received due praise for inspiring a huge improvement around the club, it is difficult to imagine them being on their current trajectory without Rashford's form.

And Rashford's numbers since the World Cup represent something of an anomaly – relying on him to score double his xG for the rest of the season would be unfair and unlikely.

This concern is not lost on Cole, who during the 1998-99 treble-winning season was one of five United players to score at least 10 goals.

"Do we need that depth? Of course we do, if we look at all the top teams in Europe, they have that depth," he continued.

"And yeah, I would say if [Rashford] did pick up an injury, which naturally I don't want, you're going to turn around say, 'where are the goals going to come from?'

"Because they're not really being spread around the team. Marcus has got a majority of them. Yeah, you might get sporadic [contributions]: Antony might get one in four games or whatever; Casemiro scored [on Sunday]; [Jadon] Sancho is getting himself back and is getting a goal every now and then.

"But if you're going to be challenging for major honours, you've got to have goals coming from all areas, and at this moment time Manchester United are relying on Marcus because he's in that form.

"No doubt they'll look to address that problem [a lack of goals elsewhere] in the summer."

Marcus Thuram will leave Borussia Moenchengladbach at the end of this season when his contract expires.

As a result, the 25-year-old French forward is garnering plenty of interest from top European clubs.

Thuram has scored 14 goals in all competitions this season for Gladbach, having been part of France's 2022 World Cup squad.

 

TOP STORY – THURAM OFFERED TO BARCELONA

Marcus Thuram's agent has offered the French forward to Barcelona as an off-season signing, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Thuram has interest from Chelsea, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid and Inter.

Barcelona's economic challenges mean they have prioritised signing players on free transfers in recent times with Thuram offering that plus flexibility in attack.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fichajes claims Cristiano Ronaldo wants Sergio Ramos to join him at Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, with the defender's contract with PSG to expire at the end of this season. Ramos will leave it late to make a decision, holding out hope for a PSG extension.

Liverpool will battle Bayern Munich in the off-season for the signature of Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic, reports Calciomercatoweb.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea are all interested in Inter's Marcelo Brozovic, with the Serie A club open to selling him, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Manchester United are weighing up a move for Bayer Leverkusen right-back Jeremie Frimpong, reports Football Insider. Fabrizio Romano claims numerous top clubs are interested in the Dutch defender.

– La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Liverpool are tracking Inter's Nicolo Barella as they look to bolster their midfield options.

West Ham, Fulham, Crystal Palace and Brentford are all circling for Milan forward Olivier Giroud,  who is open to a return to England, claims The Sun.

Cristiano Ronaldo outclassed another Saudi Pro League defence as his second hat-trick in three games earned Al Nassr a 3-0 win over Damak on Saturday.

The former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward had his treble by half-time, following up his four-goal haul two weeks previously against Al Wehda.

Ronaldo's first against Damak was an 18th-minute penalty, awarded after a handball by Farouk Chafai, while his second was a fierce left-footed strike from 20 yards five minutes later as defenders stood off.

The hat-trick was sealed in the 44th minute after a fast break out of defence, with Abdulrahman Ghareeb driving down the left before feeding a pass through to Ayman Yahya.

Yahya might have shot but elected to lay the ball off for 38-year-old Ronaldo to smash home from 10 yards.

Ronaldo hit 44 hat-tricks in his legendary Madrid career, becoming the Spanish giants' record scorer, while he also netted three across two spells with United, and added three trebles during a three-year stint at Juventus.

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