New Portugal coach Roberto Martinez praised the positive influence of record-breaker Cristiano Ronaldo as they beat Liechtenstein 4-0 on Thursday night at the start of their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. Martinez said matches against smaller teams could become traps but that the Portuguese had made the perfect start in Group J against the tiny Alpine principality.
It marked a record 197th cap for Ronaldo, who scored the last two goals at the Jose Alvalade Stadium to extend his record-breaking international tally to 120. “It was very, very positive,” Martinez said. “It was an obvious next step from the attitude and the work we did in training. It is always very difficult to play this type of game, they are ‘trap games’, but the way we played with the ball and how we smothered the danger of Liechtenstein was very important.”
Martinez, the former Belgium manager, took over from Fernando Santos after Portugal lost in last year’s World Cup quarter-final to Morocco in Qatar. His line-up, however, did not differ much from his predecessor and they were quick to take the lead through Joao Cancelo but failed to add more goals until the start of the second half.
“We started the first half well but then got frustrated,” Martinez said.
“We have to grow in these games. The performance in the second half was much better. It was an opportunity to gain three points and more than that for the players to get to know me and me them. It’s always complicated when you have a lot of opposition players in front of goal. You have to control your emotions, you cannot be too individualistic.”
Martinez restored Ronaldo to the starting line-up after he had been benched for their last two games of the World Cup and was delighted with the 38-year-old’s contribution.
“It’s a new cycle. It’s important for a player to show commitment and that we can use his experience, and Cristiano shows that,” the coach added.
In the same group, Rade Krunic scored twice as Bosnia and Herzegovina swept aside Iceland 3-0. But Slovakia, who have qualified for the last two Euros, were held 0-0 at home by Luxembourg.
Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark bounced back from their disappointing early exit at the World Cup to beat Finland 3-1 in Copenhagen. Atalanta forward Rasmus Hojlund scored a hat-trick for the Danes on his first start for his country.
Elsewhere in Group H, Dion Charles scored twice as Northern Ireland won 2-0 in San Marino, while Slovenia came from behind to win 2-1 away to Kazakhstan. In the other game in Group C, North Macedonia beat Malta 2-1.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Liechtenstein during the UEFA Euro 2024 qualification match. (AFP)