SAINT PETERSBURG: Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his delight at firing Portugal into the Confederations Cup semi-finals after netting his 75th international goal in Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of New Zealand.
“I’m very happy to be in the semi-finals. We’re confident and want to win,” said Ronaldo, who picked up his third straight man-of-the-match award in Russia.
The 32-year-old has a court date in Madrid next month, accused by Spanish authorities of tax evasion, and the fallout has resulted in Ronaldo threatening to leave Real.
Despite the off-field turmoil and constant speculation about his future, the Portugal captain has dazzled on the pitch in Russia and scored two goals in three matches.
Ronaldo converted a 33rd-minute penalty to fire the Euro 2016 winners in front in Saint Petersburg before Bernardo Silva turned in a second goal four minutes later.
Andre Silva added a third on 80 minutes before Nani completed the rout in stoppage time to ensure Portugal finished above Mexico on goal difference.
“I thought we played well in many parts of the game; in others, not so well. Overall though, it was a fair victory,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
Ronaldo’s latest goal sent him level with Hungary great Sandor Kocsis and to within nine of the legendary Ferenc Puskas’ European record of 84 at international level.
After demolishing New Zealand, Portugal progressed as Group A winners and will face the runners-up in Group B — likely Germany or Chile — next Wednesday in Kazan for a place in the July 2 final.
Mexico eliminated hosts Russia with a 2-1 win to join Portugal on seven points, with the Gold Cup winners to meet the second-placed side from Group B in the last four.
Hirving Lozano’s courageous second-half header sealed Mexico’s comeback victory over 10-man Russia in Kazan.
Hosts Russia took a deserved 25th-minute lead through Aleksandr Samedov, but Nestor Araujo equalised for Mexico with a looping header on the half hour.
Igor Akinfeev was then left embarrassed as Lozano nipped in front of the Russia goalkeeper to head in from the edge of the area on 52 minutes after a towering clearance caused chaos in the home defence.
Russia suffered a further blow when Yury Zhirkov was dismissed on 68 minutes and substitute Igor Smolnikov blazed over from close range with quarter of an hour remaining to compound their misery.
“We knew we were going to have a really tough game against a very strong side in the host nation, who simply had to go for the win,” said Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio.
“This is a big victory for Mexican football. I think we deserved to win and we’re delighted with the result and the performance of the team.”
For Russia it was their final competitive fixture ahead of next year’s World Cup, but coach Stanislav Cherchesov remained upbeat despite his side’s early exit.
“I’m confident that all the players who’ve taken part in the tournament will draw on the experience to develop and mature,” he said.
“Three quarters of the squad have never played at this level, and with new players coming through all the time I’m optimistic about the future.”