BUDAPEST ⸺ Cristiano Ronaldo came to Portugal’s rescue with two penalties to cancel out a brace from France’s Karim Benzema in an enthralling 2-2 draw that sent both sides into the Euro 2020 last 16 in a breathless conclusion to Group F on Wednesday.
A nerve-jangling night for the reigning European champions saw them occupy every position in the group at various junctures but the 36-year-old Ronaldo, so often his country’s saviour, stepped up again to reach yet another career milestone.
Two spot-kick conversions — in the 31st and 60th minutes — took him to 109 international goals, level with the record number scored by Iran’s Ali Daei.
Benzema’s first was also from the spot as for the first time in Euros history a match had three penalties.
The Frenchman, recalled by manager Didier Deschamps for the tournament after a five-year international exile, equalised on the stroke of halftime and put France ahead two minutes after the interval.
With Hungary leading against Germany at that point, Portugal were bottom of Group F and heading home.
But Ronaldo coolly beat Hugo Lloris again from 12 yards and Portugal held on for the draw which means they finished on four points in third place and can now prepare for a last-16 clash against Belgium in Seville.
France, whose attack finally clicked, topped a crazy group with five points and will take on Switzerland in Bucharest.
“It was a fight and it wasn’t easy. We gave them the two goals from mistakes. We tried to win it,” said France manager Didier Deschamps, whose side were in danger of a last-16 clash with England at Wembley when they fell behind.
“It means we’re top and that’s the best position.”
The Euro 2020 format has been criticised but there is no doubt that it produced a gripping night in which every conceivable scenario seemed to come into play.
Portugal had only needed to avoid defeat to be sure of a last-16 spot but after bossing the first half with recalled Renato Sanches and Joao Moutinho commanding in midfield, they diced with danger after the break.
In the end, they could breath a sigh of relief, though, as they go into the business end of the tournament they won by beating France in Paris in the 2016 final.
France began brightly with Paul Pogba sending Mbappe through for a shot saved by Rui Patricio,
But Portugal were awarded a penalty in the 27th minute after Hugo Lloris’s attempted punched clearance wiped out Danilo.
Lloris was shown a yellow card before Ronaldo smashed the penalty into the corner.
France were rattled and Portugal began to play with some swagger but they were pegged back when referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz deemed that Nelson Semedo had bundled over Kylian Mbappe on the stroke of halftime as he tried to latch on to Pogba’s pass.
Benzema buried the penalty and two minutes after the break he was picked out by Pogba again and the Real Madrid striker, shown to be just onside by a VAR check, slotted the ball past Rui Patricio for his 29th goal for France.
Now it was Portugal on the ropes in the Puskas Arena as France’s fearsome attack began to play with freedom.
But the game’s third penalty, awarded for a handball by Jules Kounde, gave Ronaldo the chance to beat Lloris again from the spot to register his fifth goal of the tournament.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond; Reuters