Sunday , July 21 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani strike for hosts Portugal

The result will read 2-1 to Portugal but that only tells half the story. This was also about football winning and evil losing, as the game that almost didn’t happen did.

It ended in defeat but this was a defiant display as Belgium played for the first time since last week’s atrocities in Brussels.

Former Manchester United duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani got a goal each for Portugal before Everton striker Romelu Lukaku gave Belgium something to cheer about after a week from hell.

They knew the show must go on and, even if it didn’t at the King Baudouin Stadium in the Belgian capital, it did here.

The venue was the Estadio Dr Magalhaes Pessoa in Leiria but, for the evening, this pocket of Portugal felt like Belgium with its black, yellow and red flags and songs.

There was Belgian grieving, Belgian remembrance, Belgian defiance – all without barely a Belgian here after the late stadium switch saw no tickets made available for the visitors.

To Portugal’s credit, their players didn’t patronise their opponents.

Belgium are ranked No 1 in the world but, without Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Benteke, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and more due to injury, Portugal took advantage.

The usual screams from supporters met every touch by Ronaldo but it was a different former player from Old Trafford who opened the scoring.

Nani beat the offside trap in the 20th minute before doing the same to Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to make it 1-0.

Soon after, though, Ronaldo got his goal after meeting a cross by Joao Mario in the 40th minute. The defence had deserted Courtois and all the man from Real Madrid had to do was pick his corner. He did so, celebrated with his trademark pose, and the Portuguese supporters ate it up.

Manchester United sent scouts to this match to watch Benfica 18-year-old Renato Sanches and they got to see him in the second half as he came on as a substitute.

Another starlet who was thrown on was Belgium’s Jordan Lukaku, the 21-year-old brother of Romelu. Yet it was the Everton man who made his presence felt, as his header in the 62nd minute got them back into the game.

Belgium were brave in making sure this game went ahead and their players were as courageous on the pitch but it wasn’t to be, as Portugal held on to tilt this international friendly in their favour.

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