Ronaldo carries Portugal into last 16
CR7 to the rescue with brace as Portugal sneak into Round of 16
(Zoltan Gera 19 Balazs Dzsudzsak 47, 55)
(Luis Nani 42, Cristiano Ronaldo 50, 62)
If ever Cristiano Ronaldo found the captain's armband stifling, this was the day.
As Portugal surprisingly laboured to draws in their opening two Euro 2016 matches, the Portuguese ace bore the brunt of the criticism.
The pressure converged on the country's talisman, threatening to turn him into the villain.
But at the Stade de Lyon this morning (Singapore time), Ronaldo suddenly came alive.
Just when Portugal appeared destined for a quick, embarrassing exit from France, he turned on the magic and helped his team clinch a spot in the Round of 16 by the skin of their teeth.
Two goals and one assist by him did the trick, as Portugal fought back from going behind thrice to draw 3-3 with Hungary.
He is back in the groove, although it didn't looked like it was shaping up to be a memorable day for him.
The Real Madrid forward isn't one to take criticism kindly, and the stress was beginning to tell on the pitch, and off it.
When a Portuguese journalist asked him while he was out on a walk with the team before the game if he was prepared for the Hungary game, he snatched the microphone and threw it into an adjacent lake.
Things certainly went pear-shaped for them when Hungary took the lead this morning.
Zoltan Gera, the former Fulham and West Bromwich Albion midfielder, smashed in the opening goal from outside the penalty box in the 19th minute after a corner kick was only half-cleared.
Just when it seemed Portugal would go into the break 1-0 down, Ronaldo rediscovered his missing Midas touch at major tournaments.
Sensing the opposing defenders drifting out of position, he sliced them apart with a beautifully weighted through-ball for Nani to fire a shot in at the near post three minutes before half-time.
The dramatic end to the first period was only a teaser of what was to come after the break.
Just two minutes had passed from the restart when Balazs Dzsudzsak blasted a deflected free-kick into the net to restore Hungary's one-goal lead.
It didn't last long, however.
Ronaldo's equaliser came just three minutes later.
Joao Mario was the provider, supplying the cross from the right flank for him to execute a beautiful flick to make it 2-2.
That made him the first player to score at four European Championship Finals and his 17th match in a Euro tournament was also a record.
In the 55th minute, Dzsudzsak put Hungary back ahead with another deflected shot, just outside of the box.
But Ronaldo wasn't done yet.
With a thumping 62nd-minute header, he made it 3-3, almost single-handedly dragging his team out of the disaster. In the end, Portugal made it through to the knockout phase, but only just.
That they fought back under such trying circumstances deserves credit.
But the team must also shoulder much of the blame for making lives difficult for themselves.
Fortunately for them, Ronaldo stirred to life just in time.
Croatia, conquerors of Spain, are next. They will be a different kettle of fish altogether. Portugal will be keeping their fingers crossed that Ronaldo's sizzling form doesn't end here.
- HUNGARY: Gabor Kiraly, Adam Lang, Richard Guzmics, Roland Juhasz, Mihaly Korhut, Balazs Dzsudzsak, Zoltan Gera (Barnabas Bese 46), Adam Pinter, Gergo Lovrencsics (Zoltan Stieber 83), Akos Elek, Adam Szalai (Krisztian Nemeth 71)
- PORTUGAL: Rui Patricio, Vieirinha, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Eliseu, Andre Gomes (Ricardo Quaresma 61), Joao Moutinho (Renato Sanches 46), William Carvalho, Joao Mario, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Nani (Danilo Pereira 8