Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational hat-trick ensured Portugal qualified for the 2014 World Cup Finals, and became his country’s joint record goalscorer in the process.
The Real Madrid ace scored the only goal of the game in the first leg of the qualifier against Sweden last week, and he fired them ahead in the return leg in Stockholm. However, a double from Zlatan Ibrahimovic put the tie back in the balance, before Ronaldo hit two more goals to complete his hat-trick and equal Pauleta’s tally of 47 goals for the Portuguese.
“This is a beautiful day for me personally and for my country,” said Ronaldo. “I scored three goals, equalling Pauleta’s performance, this makes me happy, we must enjoy this moment. I know Portugal needed me in these matches and I showed I am here. I respect Sweden a lot, I think they have a fantastic team, but in both games we played better than them, we created more chances, we played solid. I think we deserved to win and we were the best team.”
It took Pauleta 88 matches to reach 47 goals, and although Ronaldo has taken 109 caps to equal this tally, he has also played in various roles for the national side since making his debut as an 18-year-old against Kazakhstan in 2003. His latest contribution, together with his excellent performances at club level, has seen him become the bookmaker’s favourite to win Balon d’Or this year.
“One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, may now have played in his last World Cup Finals. The Paris St Germain striker will be 36 when the next edition begins in Russia in 2018, so his appearances in the 2002 and 2006 Finals are likely to be his only ones. Typically, the former Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Internazionale, Barcelona and Milan ace, who has never been short of confidence, believes the tournament in Brazil next year will not be the same without his presence.
“It was probably the last attempt to reach the World Cup with the national team for me,” he said on his app, Zlatan Unplugged. “One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch so it is not worthwhile to wait for the World Cup. Congratulations to Portugal but both teams deserved to get to the World Cup. The disappointment of course is great now that the World Cup in Brazil will remain a dream for the Swedish national team.”