Portugal didn’t need Cristiano Ronaldo to rack up its biggest-ever win in a competitive game.
A 9-0 rout of Luxembourg in European Championship qualifying on Monday was achieved without Ronaldo, who was suspended because of an accumulation of yellow cards in earlier Group J games.
In the absence of the five-time world player of the year and record scorer in men’s internationals, Goncalo Ramos, Goncalo Inacio and Diogo Jota all scored twice along with goals for Ricardo Horta, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix in the Algarve.
“It was a satisfactory aspect that, being 4-0 or 5-0 up, the team kept playing the same way as if it was 0-0,” Portugal coach Roberto Martinez said. “When you get that, it shows you the values of the players and that the respect toward the team is essential — that was really good to see.”
The 38-year-old Ronaldo missed a great chance to add to his haul of 123 international goals but there’ll be four more opportunities in a group that Portugal is dominating with six straight wins. No other team has that many victories in qualifying.
Martinez’s team stayed five points ahead of Slovakia and moved eight ahead of Luxembourg. The top two in each group qualify automatically.
Ramos scored two of the team’s first three goals as Ronaldo’s replacement, a role he seems to thrive in.
He did it notably at last year’s World Cup in Qatar when – in a huge call by then-coach Fernando Santos — Ronaldo was dropped to the bench for the match against Switzerland in the round of 16.
Ramos scored a hat trick in that game, announcing himself to the soccer world. He has since completed a move from Benfica to Paris Saint-Germain and might be the long-term replacement for Ronaldo, who now plays in Saudi Arabia, for Portugal’s national team that is surely heading to Euro 2024.
Germany’s 13-0 thrashing of San Marino in 2006 remains the biggest-ever win in European Championship qualifying.
In other matches in the group, Slovakia beat Liechtenstein 3-0 and Iceland defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0.
In Group D, Croatia’s 1-0 win over Armenia in Yerevan was delayed for about 70 seconds in the first half when a drone carrying the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway Armenian-populated region of Azerbaijan, flew over the field — to cheers and applause from many home fans, according to footage on social media.
It is set to lead to a UEFA disciplinary case on the grounds of it being a political statement at a game.
In 2014, a drone with a political banner was flown into the stadium where Albania and Serbia were playing a European Championship qualifier in Belgrade, prompting clashes among players. Serbian fans also attacked Albania team members and threw flares onto the field.
That game was abandoned and Serbia initially awarded a default 3-0 victory by UEFA. The sanction was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
CROATIA GOES TOP
Andrej Kramarić’s early goal sealed the victory for Croatia that lifted the World Cup semifinalists into first place in the group.
The striker tapped in at the far post after a 13th-minute corner from Luka Modric deflected off an Armenia player and went straight to Kramaric, who stuck out a foot and diverted the ball in. The goal was checked for offside as it appeared Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol got a touch, too.
After starting Group D with a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Wales, Croatia has won three straight matches and gone above Turkey on goal difference, having played one game fewer.
Wales won 2-0 in Latvia thanks to goals by Aaron Ramsey and David Brooks and joined Armenia on seven points, three behind Croatia and Turkey. It was a relieving win for Wales coach Robert Page, who has faced growing pressure after back-to-back defeats against Armenia and Turkey in the group.