Portugal have yet to win at Euro 2016 and face a testing last-16 clash against Croatia but Cristiano Ronaldo’s first two goals at the tournament have filled the team with confidence.
Ronaldo scored twice and Portugal came from behind three times to earn a 3-3 draw against Hungary on Wednesday, a result that allowed Fernando Santos’s side to progress from Group F as one of the four best third-placed sides.
Ronaldo was under scrutiny after a poor start to the tournament as Portugal drew their opening games against Iceland and Austria.
Against Austria on Saturday, Ronaldo crashed a second-half penalty off the post but he hit back in style against Hungary with goals from a back-heel and then a powerful header.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is the best in the world,” Portugal winger Ricardo Quaresma told Portuguese television channel CMTV.
“I’ve never seen a player with such a strong mentality as his. The world can fall on him but he is always ready to give his all.”
Portugal’s newspapers celebrated Ronaldo’s heroics with A Bola’s front page reading “The genius is back” and O Jogo’s declaring “Ronaldo against the cosmos”.
Ronaldo, Portugal’s most capped player, was just happy to deliver on a night when he broke two records.
Against Hungary, the 31-year-old made a record 17th appearance at European Championship finals, allowing him to overtake former France defender Lilian Thuram and ex-Netherlands goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
He also became the first player to score at four finals.
“I’m happy with the two beautiful records and as I always say, I take it naturally,” Ronaldo said to O Jogo.
“But the priority was to go through. We didn’t win but we achieved our aim.”
Portugal, who reached the semi-finals of the competition four years ago before losing to Spain on penalties, take on Croatia on Saturday in Lens.
Croatia beat Spain 2-1 on Tuesday to progress as top of their group.
“Against Croatia, it’s going to be 50-50,” said Ronaldo, who scored 51 goals in 48 games in all competitions for Real Madrid this season.
“Whoever plays better will go through. Few sides beat Spain and we know that we are going to face a good side and we have to win.”
“We have our weapons and our courage and we will play them eye to eye.”