On August 20, 2003, Cristiano Ronaldo wore the shirt of Portugal for the first time in his life, in a friendly against Kazakhstan. So in five months the account is simple, the Al Nassr striker will celebrate two decades as an international player. And he will do so, barring injury, as captain and leader of his team, a condition that was in doubt after the last World Cup, but which Roberto Martinez He solidified himself in his first two games in charge of Portugal.

The international break in March is now over for Portugal, after a more than achievable window to start qualifying for Euro 2024. Last Thursday, they thrashed Liechtenstein (4-0) and on Sunday they did the same at home against Luxembourg (0-6), two teams from the tail of the European football wagon. In both parts, Cristiano was a starter, captain and top scorer.

Cristiano’s Match Record

In the first of them, he reached a new milestone in his career, full of them, when he became the most capped football player in historyin an account that already reaches 198 games. Barring an injury or some other unforeseen event, Cristiano will achieve a round figure in June that for weeks seemed like a dream.

Because Cristiano, it’s best not to forget him, It was very marked during the World Cup in Qatar. The then coach, Fernando Santos, decided to relegate him to the bench in the round of 16, after a poor performance in the first phase and a rarefied climate in the locker room. The bet went so well, with his substitute Gonçalo Ramos scoring three goals, that he decided to repeat it in the quarter-finals, where Portugal was eliminated against Morocco.

Everything that happened in Doha, along with the decision to close a chapter in European football to be seduced by Saudi Arabia Petrodollars, They took the feeling that Cristiano’s cycle in his team had ended, already with 38 years. Only the already announced departure from Santos left room for a doubt that had finally become reality.

The arrival of Roberto Martinez

because who got it in charge of Portugal was the Spanish Roberto Martinez, with no time to digest the painful end of the cycle in Belgium. And one of the first things Martínez did was go to Saudi Arabia to speak face to face with the captain of his new team. A conclave in which reaffirmed him as leader of Portugalannouncing that it entered into their plans.

“Cristiano’s experience at international level is unique. He is a reference in the locker room, he is prepared to lead and be the captain of this team. He has the record of international games in the world and that gives us a very important experience. Young people want prove your worth and the role of players like Cristiano is to contribute their experience“, expressed the coach a few days ago.

The position of ‘Bob’ Martínez is not surprising, since his resume was there to leave the necessary clues that he would continue to bet on Cristiano. During his spell in Belgium, he continued to trust until the end in the most veterans of the resort, such as central defenders Vertonghen and Alderweireld or Atlético midfielder Witsel.

Roberto Martinez and Hazard

But above all, he acted as a staunch defender of Eden Hazard at his lowest moments, which are the current ones. Since he moved to Waterloo in 2016, Martínez has named him captain and team leader. It was easy to do in the early years, when maybe it was the best football player in the Premier League in the ranks of Chelseabut it also continued to do so in more recent times.

Despite his lack of prominence at Real Madrid, Martínez always looked out for Hazard and kept faith in him. He started the first two games of the World Cup and he only visited the bench in the third (he only played three minutes), when it became clear that things were not going well. In that match, after drawing with Croatia, everything was over.

Cristiano chases another record

Now the Spanish coach repeats the strategy with Cristiano. And although the sample is small (two games) and of little qualitative value, given the entity of the rivals, the conclusion is positive. Two goals against Liechtenstein and two against Luxembourg, in both duels being substituted in the second half without the ‘7’ seeming to get the worst of it. Which is already quite an achievement.

Without the demands of playing in a big European league, Cristiano points to next year’s Euro in Germany, when he will have already exceeded the age of 39. Common sense says that this will be his last international season, but with him it is not possible to rule out trying to extend his career with Portugal until 2026, thus becoming the only footballer (Messi could also achieve it) in play six World Cups. It would be another record. And they will…