Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick brought him level with Ferenc Puskas for the most international goals by a European player, while he also reached a number of World Cup landmarks in Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain in Sochi, Russia, on Friday.
Ronaldo scored his 82nd, 83rd and 84th career goals for Portugal to match Puskas, who played for Hungary from 1945 to 1956 and for whom FIFA has named its Goal of the Year Award.
Among players from all continents, Ronaldo now trails only Ali Daei, who scored 109 goals for Iran from 1993 to 2006.
Ronaldo had twice given Portugal the lead with first-half goals — a penalty he earned himself and a goalkeeping howler — but Diego Costa equalised for Spain with a goal in each half and Nacho Fernandez put the 2010 champions ahead, before the Portuguese star stepped up to a free kick in the 88th minute and buried it in the back of the net.
At 33, Ronaldo also became the oldest player to score a hat trick in the World Cup, breaking the record of Dutch forward Rob Rensenbrink, who was nearly 31 at the 1978 World Cup.
“I am very happy,” he said after the game. “This is the product of a lot of years of work. People have always believed in me and I work hard for my country. “
The hat trick also was the 51st of Ronaldo’s career for club and country — but the first time his team failed to win. However, Ronaldo said he thought the draw was a “fair result.”
“The World Cup just started. We can go through this group phase, we know it is going to be tough, difficult but we have to focus on each match, and go match by match,” he added.
“We are not the favourites, but yes, we are candidates. We are going to do the best we possibly can. We want to try to beat Morocco and to try to advance to the next stage. The team is doing everything very well.”
Ronaldo’s personal success came at an event in which he has previously struggled to be at his best, as he matched his goal tally from his previous 13 World Cup appearances combined.
But, much like his equalising 88th-minute free kick against Spain, Ronaldo’s previous three goals all came late in the game as well. He became the fourth player in World Cup history with at least four career goals in the 80th minute or later, joining Gerd Muller and Roberto Baggio — who both have five — and Gary Lineker.
With his first goal of the day, a penalty in the fourth minute, Ronaldo became just the fourth player to score in four different World Cups, joining Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose.
At an average of 20.7 yards away, Ronaldo’s three goals also came from a longer distance than any of the 27 hat tricks since the 1966 World Cup.
Ronaldo’s hat trick was the third for Portugal at a World Cup but first since 2002, and he tried to deflect most of the credit to his teammates.
“It is a record in my sports career but what is most important for me is what the team has done,” Ronaldo said. “We have played against one of the teams favoured to win this World Cup and we have come out ahead twice, although in the end we ended up with the draw.”
“We are very happy because the match was about to end when we were able to get the draw at three goals. We have to give credit to what the team has done. It was a very competitive match. Now we have to think about the next match, which will also be difficult.”
But Portugal coach Fernando Santos gave credit where it’s due noting: “I’ve said it so many times, Cristiano is the best in the world.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Ronaldo, as his heroics came just hours after multiple reports said his representatives reached a deal with Spanish authorities to pay an €18.8 million ($21.8m) fine with a two-year suspended prison sentence in a tax evasion case.
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