As soon as Portugal’s 2018 World Cup campaign kicked off, it was clear that Cristiano Ronaldo was on a mission. With just four minutes gone versus near-neighbours Spain, the Real Madrid man fired in a penalty taking centre stage without a flinch, acting as if it were a mere training match as the whole world looked on. He would then go on to fire in a hat-trick as he single-handedly rescued a point for his side, his last-minute free kick providing a jaw-dropping climax to an already brilliantly exciting match.
Ronaldo would take his tournament tally to four in the opening minutes of the following encounter with Iran, his solitary strike enough to see his side take a 1-0 victory. Ronaldo has already eclipsed his previous World Cup record – having netted just once each in 2006, 2010 and 2014 – and it certainly seems like there will be more to come from the man who lives to beat records.
At 33 years old, Ronaldo – who is already Portugal’s all-time top scorer – will want to record the highest ever goal haul at international level, and his Coach Fernando Santos certainly thinks the star man is getting better and better with age.
“He is constantly evolving, contradictorily to the other players,” revealed Santos to the BBC. “He knows himself and he knows what he can do. What he does now is not what he did three or four years ago, and not what he will be doing in a few years from now.”
Currently on 85 goals for his country, Ronaldo will have to score another 25 during his career in order to pull off this feat, something which certainly seems achievable for a player of such apparent longevity. A headed strike versus Morocco put the Portugal international above Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas, but what of the man who currently sits in top spot?
The answer is certainly a candidate to be used in a football quiz, Iran international Ali Daei. In a career that spanned 1993 to 2006, he fired 109 international goals in just 149 caps, a record that outshines a club tally of 152 strikes in 287 total appearances.
Just three years after his debut, Daei would find the net an incredible 22 times, including a four-goal haul in the 1996 Asia Cup match versus South Korea. Such a performance would earn Daei a lucrative move to Europe, having previously only featured at domestic level in Iran and Qatar. The destination was to be Arminia Bielefeld in Germany, a team newly promoted to the Bundesliga and seven goals in 25 appearances would be enough to secure a dream move to Bayern Munich the following year.
“That match (versus South Korea) changed my sporting life because after that, I was transferred to Germany and my life totally changed,” admitted Daei to the AFC official website in 2017. “I learned many things and one of the most important aspects I bring to the Iranian teams now [as a Coach] is the discipline I learned there.
Daei would become the first ever Asian player to feature in a Champions League match during that spell, yet it was internationally where he would truly find fame. After another 20 goal tally in 2000, the striker was heading towards eclipsing the record previously set by Puskas, and he would eventually achieve that milestone on November 28th 2003, in an Asian Cup qualifying match versus Lebanon.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect in all of this story is that despite the incredible total of 109 international strikes, he never scored a single goal in a World Cup. Yet this intelligent man – now a Coach at Persian club Saipa Tehran, a CEO of his own company and a graduate in metallurgical engineering – truly has something to be proud of.
“I think this record is for Iranian football, not only me,” continued Daei in the same interview. “It is also because of other good players who were playing in the team with me and it was a gift from God. I think all records are there to be broken, so maybe it will be broken in the future.”
The man who is challenging him couldn’t be more different. Ronaldo’s career achievements are seemingly never-ending and include five Ballon d’Or awards, highest goalscorer in the top-five European leagues with 395, highest Champions League goalscorer ever (120) and the most goals scored in a single season in the latter elite competition with 17. It is possible to go on, but the point remains the same.
In this regard, it is definitely for the best that Daei is realistic in his expectations over the record as – make no mistake – Ronaldo is coming for him.
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Also published on Medium.