‘I don’t chase records, they chase me’
Cristiano Ronaldo will play his two hundredth international tonight. Given the crowded soccer calendar, that number of matches for Portugal is perhaps the most absurd record held by the striker (38).
“I don’t chase records, they chase me,” Ronaldo said ahead of Tuesday night’s European Championship qualifier against Iceland. “It would be great if I can score a goal.” He has already done that 122 times so far for his country, also unmatched.
Competition at long range
“I’m happy because it’s part of my motivation to keep playing at the highest level with my team,” Ronaldo continued. “It’s something I never thought I would achieve.”
Ronaldo has yet to hint at the end of his international career, so the question is whether anyone will ever surpass his statistics. Of his “competitors,” goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has not been called up for five years, Luka Modric is starting to have doubts and Lionel Messi is already on a farewell tour.
Still active record internationals
|1. Cristiano Ronaldo (38, Portugal)||199 internationals|
|2. Bader Al-Mutawa (38, Kuwait)||196 internationals|
|11. Gianluigi Buffon (45, Italy)||176 internationals|
|12. Lionel Messi (35, Argentina)||175 internationals|
|18. Luka Modric (37, Croatia)||166 internationals|
Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal on August 20, 2003, in a friendly against Kazakhstan. His current teammate Antonio Silva had not even been born at the time.
In those years, Ronaldo’s name was still inextricably linked with the eponymous Brazilian striker, easily scoring for PSV, Barcelona and Real Madrid, among others, and world champion in 1994 and 2002. But in 2004, the era of the Portuguese Ronaldo really began, during the European Championship in his home country.
Five World Cups, five European Championships, and at every tournament Ronaldo is still on target too
Portugal disappointed greatly with its collection of old celebrities, after which national coach Felipe Scolari drastically rejuvenated the team and saw the teenager score his first goals in international service. So too in the 2-1 semifinal win against the Netherlands.
Under national coach Fernando Santos, Ronaldo enjoyed the greatest successes with Portugal, with European Championship wins in 2016 and a Nations League win (against the Netherlands) three years later.
The same Santos was also the first to dare doubt Ronaldo, passing him a few times during the last World Cup. The elimination against Morocco cost Santos his job.
His successor Roberto Martínez has given the captain his spot back, even though Ronaldo now plays for money in Saudi Arabia. “I will never stop coming to the Portuguese team,” the striker said in turn.
Interestingly, his buddy Pepe (40 years old, 133 international matches) is also still part of the squad. Together with Ronaldo, he also won 13 prizes with Real Madrid, including the Champions League three times.
“Pepe is part of the furniture of this team. I am his friend,” Ronaldo said of the acrimonious defender. “We met more than 20 years ago at Sporting. I like it when he’s around and, as one of the captains, his status is clear. Everyone respects him.”
With Ronaldo and Pepe, Portugal is heading to the final round of the European Championships in Germany next year, already with a five-point margin. For Ronaldo, that could be the eleventh major tournament. At the preceding ten, he managed to score at least once each time.