Relentless Cristiano Ronaldo closes in international goalscoring record for Portugal

Juventus attacker has just overtook Pele to officially become the world's top goalscorer and now needs seven more to beat Daei's total for Iran

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From the scriptwriters who brought you CR7, and the G.O.A.T 770 shirt, a new project: To rush out the release of CR777.

At the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo is seven goals shy of that neatly symmetrical number of senior career goals. Even more than usual, there’s an urgency to score them fast.

If Ronaldo’s next seven goals arrive in his next three games, the 777th of his professional career would coincide nicely with another towering statistical milestone.

Ten days ago, he overtook Pele's official landmark of senior goals – 767 – with a hat-trick for Juventus against Cagliari, and was presented with a commemorative jersey with 770 on its back and G.O.A.T – Greatest Of All Time – above it by Juve president Andrea Agnelli.

His next seven in the colours of Portugal will make him the greatest marksman in international men’s football, matching the 109 goals scored by Iran’s Ali Daei between 1993 and 2006.

Ronaldo will, barring very serious injury, most likely eclipse that mark this year, but there is a genuine suspense over whether he might just do it this month.

It sounds a tall order, seven goals three games, even for a finisher of his appetites. But then you look at Portugal’s schedule of World Cup qualifiers and see possibilities: They play Azerbaijan – ranked 108th in the world by Fifa – on Wednesday in Turin, a ‘home’ fixture relocated because of Covid-19 travel restrictions; Serbia (30th) on Saturday; and Luxembourg (98th) next Tuesday.

Portugal’s Fifa ranking? Fifth. And the more Ronaldo matures – he turned 36 last month – the more he relishes expeditions into the lower valleys of international football’s uneven landscape.

In the qualifiers for this summer’s European championship Ronaldo subjected poor Lithuania (Fifa ranking: 129) to a terrible ordeal, pumping seven goals past them in just two games.

That was part of his rush from 83 international goals to his century, a sequence of 16 in ten Portugal matches, during which his country added the inaugural Uefa National League title to a set of honours that includes the last European championship.

Euro 2016, in which Portugal surprisingly beat hosts France in the final was the first major international prize won by Ronaldo, the captain, though he was off the field for most of the final having suffered an injury.

The squad he leads in the defence of the title looks far better resourced than it did for that tournament. As he chases records, and further honours, Ronaldo is entitled to believe he has never been surrounded by a better cohort of creative assistants.

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Gallery: Juve present Cristiano Ronaldo with 'G.O.A.T' shirt

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At Euro 2016, he relied on ageing wingers like Nani or Ricardo Quaresma as his sidekicks; now Ronaldo looks around the attacking positions and sees Bernardo Silva, of Manchester City, and Bruno Fernandes, of Manchester United. Or Diogo Jota, of Liverpool and Joao Felix, the €120 millon prodigy from Atletico Madrid.

None of that quartet were involved in France five years ago. Nor were City’s Ruben Dias or Joao Cancelo, figures to lend a defensive authority that Portugal sometimes lacked on their rollercoaster ride – they conceded three goals to Hungary in the group phase – to the last European championship final.

Bernado Silva has been a particular ally in CR7’s mid-30s, provider of the pass for six of Ronaldo’s last 17 Portugal goals. There’s good news for Portugal manager Fernando Santos, too, in the recent form of Andre Silva, who emerged four years ago as a candidate to fill a gap for the national team, as the sort of spearhead centre-forward Ronaldo likes to play off, but whose progress stuttered when he moved from Porto to AC Milan and then Sevilla.

At 25, he is thriving again, with 21 Bundesliga goals this season for Eintracht Frankfurt. When Andre Silva and Ronaldo combine for the national team, the goals tend to flow: In 21 matches together, they have scored 33 between them.

Ronaldo will play his 171st international against Azerbaijan. “He’s super-motivated, as he always is,” said Fernando Santos, “and ambitious, but not for personal objectives but to help the team.

"We recognise we are favourites against Azerbaijan, but we have to be ready for opponents who will set up mainly to defend in the last 35 or 40 metres.” The captain usually finds a way through.

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Gallery: Ronaldo scores hat-trick against Lithuania in Euro qualifier