Cristiano Ronaldo scores hat-trick as Portugal closes in on Euro 2020 spot

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Portugal returned to winning ways with a 6-0 victory over Lithuania on Thursday.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo.   -  Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Portugal saw off Lithuania 6-0 to get back on track in its bid to qualify for Euro 2020.

Juventus forward Ronaldo was a surprise starter after being substituted before the hour in his club's last Serie A outing against AC Milan, but he showed no signs of fatigue as he reached 98 goals for his country.

Portugal lost 2-1 to Ukraine last month but was a comfortable winner at Estadio Algarve on Thursday, with Goncalo Paciencia, Pizzi and Bernardo Silva also on target for the host.

The reigning European champion remains second in Group B, a point better off than Serbia - 3-2 winner over Luxembourg - ahead of the final round of qualifying fixtures.

Lithuania lost 5-1 in the reverse fixture and, as was the case in Vilnius two months ago, Ronaldo opened the scoring with a seventh-minute penalty after being caught by Saulius Mikoliunas.

Visiting goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus did well to keep out Paciencia but Ronaldo had doubled his tally with 22 minutes gone, bending in a first-time shot from the edge of the box.

Ronaldo was denied the chance to score a first-half hat-trick by referee Ruddy Buquet, who initially pointed to the spot following a challenge on Ricardo Pereira, only to overturn his decision following a brief discussion with one of his assistants.

However, Fernando Santos' team made certain of the three points seven minutes into the second half through Pizzi's angled shot that went in via both the crossbar and the post.

Paciencia slotted home a fourth goal after Setkus fumbled Silva's cross and the Manchester City playmaker added another to the tally seven minutes later with a low finish.

Ronaldo completed his hat-trick with another curled finish, this time low into the net, though he missed a glorious chance to add another to his tally when firing over from in front of goal.

 

What does it mean? Holders remain on course

Portugal's defeat to Group B winners Ukraine last month - ending an unbeaten run that stretched back to the 2018 World Cup - left it in direct competition with Serbia for second spot.

Santos' men turned on the style in Faro, however, and will now be guaranteed a place in next year's finals with victory in Luxembourg this weekend. 

Ronaldo closing in on another milestone

Ronaldo's consolation goal in Kiev four weeks ago saw him reach 700 for club and country. After his latest international hat-trick, he is now within two of hitting a century for Portugal. So much for a fading force, right?

Setkus slip-up opens floodgates

Lithuania was 3-0 down when Setkus parried a simple cross from Silva, gifting Paciencia a simple finish. The visiting keeper did not look comfortable all game and perhaps could have done better to keep out one of the five other goals, too.

What's next?

Portugal travels to Luxembourg for its final Euro 2020 qualifier on Sunday, while Lithuania - who finish bottom of Group B with just a point - host New Zealand in a friendly on the same day.

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