As Euro 2020 hits its first full week of games, Cristiano Ronaldo is five goals shy of becoming the all-time top scorer in men’s international football. He may barely remember his first goal for Portugal back in 2004. It wasn’t a remarkable effort by his standards: A corner from Luis Figo came in from the left; Ronaldo met the cross in a crowded box and planted the header beyond Antonios Nikopolidis. The 93rd-minute header came far too late for Portugal, as they lost their Euro 2004 opener 2-1 to eventual winners Greece.
But while Ronaldo’s goal had zero bearing on the overall result, it sounded the start of his remarkable run.
– Euro 2020 bracket and fixtures schedule
– Euro 2020 on ESPN: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
Heading into Tuesday’s game against Hungary (noon ET, stream live on ESPN) Ronaldo has 104 goals for the defending European champions, behind only Iranian striker Ali Daei’s men’s record of 109. At age 36, Ronaldo already holds a number of records at the international level: He became Portugal’s leading goal scorer in November 2013, when he scored No. 48, passing Pauleta (47) for the top spot. He became the top European men’s scorer in June 2018, with his 85th goal taking him beyond Hungary great Ferenc Puskas. In September 2020 he reached the 100-goal mark, only the second player to do it in men’s soccer history.
Germany or France, although he does have four against Tuesday’s opponents, Hungary. (He’s played Germany four times and France six times to date.) If Portugal end up playing England in the last 16, Ronaldo has never scored against them either. He does share the all-time Euros goal record with Michel Platini (nine) and is seemingly improving with age, scoring 48 of his goals in the past five years, but Daei remains narrowly out in front.
Daei told Tuttomercato in November 2020. “He is an absolute phenomenon. I would congratulate him directly [on breaking his record], but first he has to get there.”
Judging by Ronaldo’s goal-scoring record of one in every 133 minutes for Portugal, these Euros may come too soon for him just based on pure math, but he’ll be mindful of those on his shoulder from elsewhere in the world trying to chase him down.
Gab Marcotti talks through the sensational Cristiano Ronaldo had for Portugal from the sidelines during the Euro 2016 final.
It seems unlikely that some of the other active players — India’s Sunil Chhetri, 11th overall, has 74 goals at age 36, while UAE striker Ali Mabkhout is 12th on 73 goals — can catch him. Not even Ronaldo’s longtime “rival,” Lionel Messi, seems capable of closing the gap (72 goals from 143 games), as he’ll turn 34 in late June. Poland’s Robert Lewandowski (32 years old, 66 goals in 118 games), Neymar (66 in 105), Luis Suarez (62 from 116) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (62 in 118) won’t get there either, although their distance proves just how impressive Ronaldo’s scoring rate has been.
How about Ronaldo’s European peers? Other favourites for the Golden Boot at this summer’s Euros include Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, who’s in the form of his life. With 62 goals in 94 games (0.66 goals per game) at 28 years old, he’s a distant, but viable, threat.
Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).
Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe are also progressing nicely. England’s captain has 34 in 54 (0.63 per game), but still needs to chase down Wayne Rooney’s England record of 53 goals before he looks at Ronaldo. The same is likely for Mbappe, who has 132 in 171 for PSG, and 17 in 43 for France. The wondrous 22-year-old is a favourite to be named best player at this summer’s Euros and has plenty of time to overtake the Portugal icon — if he improves his goal-scoring record of 0.41 per game at the international level.
Looking further afield, you’d be foolish to discount 20-year-old Erling Haaland, who’s played only 12 times for Norway but has seven goals (0.58 per game). Given his ridiculous combined goal-scoring record for FC Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund (86 in as many games), Haaland has every chance.
And then there’s Zenit St. Petersburg striker Sardar Azmoun chasing down his idol. The man, dubbed the “Iranian Zlatan,” is just 26 years old and already has 34 in 54 for Iran. “[Ali Daei] was my hero when I was a kid,” Azmoun told UEFA.com in 2019. “If Ali Daei had been born in another country, they would have made a statue of his legs and put it in the middle of the city because he has achieved so much.”
But we end on the original question: Will Ronaldo break the record in these Euros? His official take is one of managing expectations.
“I managed to beat this milestone of 100 goals, and now [I’ll aim to go] for the record,” Ronaldo said in September 2020. “It’s step by step. I am not obsessed because I believe the records come in a natural way.” But judging by his reaction against Serbia back in March when he was denied a last-minute goal, the record means a lot to him.
Daei, speaking back in November, predicted Ronaldo would break his record, and he looked forward to congratulating him. “I sincerely hope that Cristiano Ronaldo will reach my goal record for the national team,” Daei said. “In no way [would I be hurt], it would be a real honour for me if a player in his class could do it.”