Ronaldo at the double, France see off Croatia in World Cup final repeat

PARIS (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo scored a stunning brace to take him to 101 international goals for Portugal in a 2-0 victory over 10-man Sweden in the Nations League early yesterday, while France won a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final 4-2 over Croatia.

Ronaldo broke the mythical 100-goal mark on the stroke of half-time, the 35-year-old Juventus attacker curling in a free-kick from 25 yards over the wall and into the far left corner beyond Sweden’s stranded goalkeeper Robin Olsen for a memorable milestone in his trophy-laden career.

The bonus second goal, and his 101st, came in the 72nd minute, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid forward cutting back inside the Swedish defence and producing a deft finish into the far corner from 20 yards.

“They are two important goals because it means I managed to reach this mark I’d been seeking,” Ronaldo told Portuguese public television RTP.

“I’m very happy, first because the team won and of course to score the 100th and then the 101st, two great goals.”

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo shoots to score his second goal during the UEFA Nations League match against Sweden. PHOTO: AFP

While acknowledging health came first, he lamented the COVID-19 enforced empty stadium in Solna.

“It’s sad playing without fans, it’s like going to the circus with no clowns or into a garden with no flowers,” Ronaldo said. “Speaking for myself, when I play away matches I like being whistled, it gives me motivation.”

After making his first senior international appearance as an 18-year-old in 2003, Ronaldo notched up his first goal for Portugal in a 2-1 defeat by eventual winners Greece at Euro 2004.

Ronaldo, capped 165 times by Portugal, is second only to Iran’s Ali Daei, on 109, in the list of top men’s international goal scorers.

“The record, it’s step by step,” Ronaldo said. “It’s not an obsession because I think records come naturally.”

Incredibly for Ronaldo, just 17 of his 100 goals have come in friendly matches, and his nine hat-tricks all came in FIFA or UEFA tournaments or qualifying games.

At the Stade de France north of Paris, Eduardo Camavinga became France’s youngest international in 96 years as les Bleus won a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final over Croatia.

Midfielder Camavinga, aged 17 years and nine months, replaced Ngolo Kante in the second half and is only surpassed by Julien Verbrugghe, aged 16 years and 10 months in 1906, and Maurice Gastiger, at 17 years and four months in 1914.

Deschamps made seven changes from last Saturday’s win over Sweden in Solna with Wissam Ben Yedder and Anthony Martial leading the attack after Kylian Mbappe contracted COVID-19.

Antoine Griezmann, Dayot Upamecano, Olivier Giroud as well as an own goal from the visitors’ goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic secured a repeat result from Russia two years ago after Dejan Lovren had opened the scoring for Croatia, Wolfsburg’s Josip Brekalo adding their second in the 55th minute.

The result sees Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winners second on goal difference in Group A behind Portugal.