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Cristiano Ronaldo signs off with two goals as Portugal outclass Ireland in Aveiro



Portugal 3 Republic of Ireland 0

Ireland trailed one-nil at the break. It could have been five. The flow of this contest came with a constant threat of humiliation as Portugal ramped up preparations for a tilt at winning their second European Championship title in Germany this summer.

Any hope of the Portuguese losing rhythm or the Irish profiting from Roberto Martínez making five substitutions at half-time was disabused within five minutes of the restart by Rúben Neves’ sumptuous ball for Cristiano Ronaldo in the box.

What happened next is worth rewatching in slow motion. Liam Scales jockeyed the Madeira maestro, whose feathery touch followed by a crossover rooted the Celtic defender to the turf before a left footed, curling shot gave Caoimhín Kelleher no chance.

Count the records as they pile high; 129 goals in 207 caps. Ronaldo had his 130th by the hour mark and any hope of Martínez wrapping him in cotton wool was abandoned. He was pursuing another hat-trick.

Luka Modrić is to blame for Portugal shooting out of the traps in sleepy Aveiro. Last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Croatia in Lisbon had old critics of Seleção questioning Martinez tactics a week out from the Euros opener against Czechia in Leipzig. Old man Modrić (38) ran the show, prompting Martinez to start Pepe (41) and Cristiano Ronaldo (39) for this final warm-up.

The erstwhile Real Madrid legends have accumulated 444 caps between them since 2003. That’s 163 more appearances than Ireland’s starting XI.

Age, in modern football, is just a number.

Still, AC Milan’s 25-year-old winger Rafael Leão immediately tried to skin the 35-year-old Irish skipper. Seámus Coleman offered him the outside and did enough to initiate contact and fall to ground. English referee Chris Kavanagh gave the wily Everton right back the free.

Unfortunately, there are many ways to skin this Irish team. Bruno Fernandes merely switched the point of attack. The Manchester United midfielder was not playing around, gliding onto Leão’s ball, only for Kelleher to force him wide where Jake O’Brien’s oak-tree-limb cleared the cut back.

Seconds in and Portugal were rampant. When João Felix rattled Kelleher’s net, the crowd went ballistic, until they saw the offside flag. But 64 per cent of the early possession was always going to tell.

Next, when Fernandes dragged O’Brien and Liam Scales into no man’s land, Ronaldo saw the space in behind, demanding possession before rolling it for Diogo Dalot who picked out Felix. The Barcelona man’s first time effort was pure but Kelleher’s left leg intervened.

From the short corner, Ireland lost concentration and instantly paid the price. João Cancelo found Fernandes who exposed Sammie Szmodics’ inability to defend at this level, finding an unmarked Felix who finished with ease.

Kelleher left the Blackburn Rovers man in no doubt about what had just occurred.

A rout seemed certain when Ronaldo won a free-kick off Josh Cullen’s arm. 22 metres out, left of centre, this was CR7 territory; his vicious attempt grazed Adam Idah’s head and clattered off the post. Coleman had to scramble in front of Leão to clean up the rebound.

Ireland were being pulverised.

O’Shea spoke this week about making his team “difficult to beat.” In his four-match-cameo as head coach, now came the acid test against a side that looks capable of beating all comers under the guidance of Martinez, the poise of Fernandes and audacity of Felix.

The message registered with Idah, whose two half chances went abegging before Portugal turned the screw agonizingly tight. In first half injury-time, Ronaldo screamed for a penalty, when touched by Robbie Brady, before unleashing a shot straight at Kelleher.

The Liverpool goalkeeper walked slowly off the pitch at half-time. Kelleher’s demeanour spoke volumes. He was composing himself for another 45 minute shellacking.

In response to the second Portugal goal, as the crowd serenaded Cristiano, all O’Shea could do was run his bench. There are few positives for Ireland here, but Tom Cannon almost scored on debut.

In response to the third goal, Ronaldo’s second, O’Shea could only look on in admiration. Not a cod in sight. His old Manchester United mucker has done good.

It was another assist by another sub; Diogo Jota swept a cross for Ronaldo to finish first time from six yards.

If this was his farewell to international football on Portuguese soil, he gave the gallery its money’s worth. He kept coming but Kelleher stayed alert when others nodded off.

Next up for managerless Ireland is England on September 7th in Dublin.

Portugal: Costa; Silva, Pepe (Danilo, h-t), Inácio; Dalot (Semedo, h/t), Fernandes, Neves (Nunes, 77), Leão (Jota, h/t), Cancelo (Mendes, h/t); Felix (Neves, h/t), Ronaldo.

Ireland: Kelleher; Coleman (Doherty, 70), O’Shea, O’Brien, Scales, Brady (O’Dowda, 53); Cullen, Smallbone (Sykes, 83); Szmodics (Knight, 70), Parrott (Johnston, 53); Idah (Cannon, 53).

Referee: Chris Kavanagh (England).

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