Portugal got their European Championship defence off to a winning start with a 3-0 victory over Hungary in Budapest. But just as the score was not indicative of a tough opener for the 2016 champions, with the deadlock only broken in the 84th minute, the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo among the goals will give this result a sense of inevitability for future generations.
The 36-year-old, who by stepping out on the pitch in Budapest became the first man to play in five European Championships, netted twice to add the gloss on Raphaël Guerreiro’s scratchy but merited opener. Ronaldo’s first, from the penalty spot, made him the leading scorer in this competition. The second – number 11 – a neat reminder of how old age has not robbed him of nimble footwork, exchanging one-twos with Rafa Silva before rounding Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and tapping home in added-time.
Jubilation at the end was at odds with the panic coursing through the Portuguese side before left-back Guerreiro was lucky to get a handy deflection from his shot, which came via a Rafa cross that also benefitted from Hungarian intervention. Willi Orban was the unfortunate defender to direct the ball into his own far corner. His misery was compounded when he brought down Andre Silva to give away the penalty that allowed Ronaldo to make up for what had been 87 minutes of frustration.
These two served up the game of the group stages in 2016: a 3-3 draw that featured two of Ronaldo’s three goals at the tournament, both of them equalisers. And it seemed the sides had a pact to treat those piling into Puskas Arena to similar levels from the off.
Portugal carried that initial burden of entertainment, partly because they could. With Ronaldo leading the line in front of an all-Premier League creative trio of Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, all eyes were on them to dictate where this match would go.
They probably should have ushered it home by half-time, though were unable to convert their 64 per cent possession to worthwhile notches in the goals column. The overriding sense was of engaging talents uncharacteristically out of sync with one another.
Jota’s strike within five minutes was smartly saved by Gulacsi, though Ronaldo’s histrionics stole the show: Every muscle tensed in anger that he was not found in space out of reach of the three Hungarian defenders who were more concerned with the Liverpool forward. The 36-year-old’s next moment of frustration was entirely self-inflicted, coming at the end of the first half as he failed to adjust to a pinged Fernandes cross from the left that he somehow struck over the bar from just inside the six-yard box with all the goal in front of him.
By then, Jota had tested Gulacsi once more with a neat turn and strike. Meanwhile, Hungary’s only noteworthy incident was a header straight at Rui Patricio from Adam Szalai, getting on the end of a free-kick his hard work had won.
The Mainz forward’s play was an extension of the home side’s: hustling for anything that came his way. Marco Rossi’s instructions might as well have been “if you can’t get the ball, get the man,” but it quickly became evident such an approach against the likes of William Carvalho, Ruben Dias and the patron saint of s***housery, Pepe, was not going to knock Portugal off course.
Yet as the second-half went on and Portugal’s pursuit of a goal grew more exasperated, so the spaces to exploit increased. Each counter by red shirts raised the expectation of the red shirts in the stands and, in turn, the sense of home advantage dovetailed with a sense of belonging.
Every window to venture forward was taken. Some to kill time, no doubt. But the occasional deep burst had Portugal chasing their tails. And though there was little to show for it going into the final 10 minutes, the vague whiff of concession was perhaps why Fernando Santos persisted with Carvalho and Danilo guarding the base of midfield.
Even then, it was Hungary who had the ball in the net first. Offside though it was, Szabolcs Schon broke down the left, before cutting inside and beating Patricio at the near post. It was the catalyst for a bit more midfield invention by Portugal.
Carvalho was the bouncer to make way for the more progressive Sanches, who bustled through midfield to find Silva for the penalty that provided the insurance goal. The bodies bouncing off him were already winded by Guerreiro’s pinball first, and Orban's attempt to get ahead of Silva who was through on goal was desperate and clumsy. Ronaldo slammed it into the corner before dancing through from the right to make it three. Harsh on Hungary but, on balance, what Portugal deserved.