Cristiano Ronaldo fires Portugal to national day win

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - Page 18

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo gave his homeland some welcome joy on their national holiday as his first-half strike gave Portugal a 1-0 win over Croatia in an international friendly played in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.

Paulo Bento’s side enjoyed their second victory in just three days as they followed their much more important FIFA World Cup qualifying win over Russia on Friday with another successful evening’s work thanks to Ronaldo’s 39th international goal.

Meanwhile, Croatia suffered back-to-back defeats after their shock 1-0 loss at home to Scotland which left them three points behind Belgium in Group A and an automatic berth for next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.

Ronaldo fired home the only goal of the match 10 minutes before the break and celebrated exuberantly in front of the Croatia fans after being on the receiving end of constant abuse and chants of “Messi” from the traveling supporters.

Having said how he was “proud to play in front of the Portuguese community in Switzerland,” the atmosphere was in stark contrast to the Santiago Bernabeu as a half empty stadium of about 13,000 in Geneva provided the support for the two World Cup hopefuls.

After a couple more half-chances for former Manchester United striker Ronaldo, he was taken off at halftime by Bento as both coaches made a series of changes.

Croatia had a golden chance to draw level with 20 minutes remaining when Hrvoje Milic struck a fierce drive, but Portugal survived the scare and can now look forward to their next qualifier on Sept. 6 when they travel to Northern Ireland, who held them to a surprise draw in their qualifying match at home.

Portugal lead Russia at the top of Group F by two points having played two more games.

The country’s National Day, or Portugal Day, is recognized on June 10 and it commemorates the death of literary icon Luis de Camoes, who died in 1580.