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Ireland burned and beaten on a sobering summer’s night



TWO MOMENTS SUM up how Portugal’s attitude – or at least that of Cristiano Ronaldo – changed dramatically during this comfortable 3-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland.

The first came when the home side were already a goal up after Sammie Szmodics switched off from a short corner and allowed Joao Felix drill home an 18th-minute opener.

Ronaldo, who also struck a deflected free kick off the post just a few moments later, peeled off towards the back post in anticipation of meeting a cross coming from the left wing.

He looked primed to connect with a header off the shoulder of Liam Scales before Robbie Brady appeared out of nowhere with a lunge into his back.

You expected a penalty to be given.

Instead, referee Chris Kavanagh ignored the appeals.

Ronaldo, showing respect for the English referee’s mother tongue, made it clear what he thought of the decision.

“F**k off,” he roared.

His mood would not have been helped by the sitter he missed right on the stroke of half-time after Bruno Fernandes teed him on the centre of the 18-yard box.

His shot was tame, straight into the arms of Caoimhin Kelleher.

The second moment that illustrated the change of tune came when Jake O’Brien was penalised for bringing Diogo Jota down just outside the area after the Liverpool forward nipped in from behind to steal possession.

Kavanagh was sent to the pitchside monitor by the VAR with everyone expecting a penalty to be awarded.

Instead, Kavanagh cancelled out his decision and when he explained how no foul was committed by the Lyon defender who was making his full international debut, Ronaldo calmly accepted the explanation and smiled in appreciation.

He could afford to by that point given the game was won and he was the one to seal victory before heading to his sixth European Championships.

He did so in stunning fashion, his 50th minute strike the perfect illustration of how he re-worked his game from tricky winger to goal machine.

Again he pulled off the shoulder of Scales, this time on the right, receiving João Neves’s diagnoal pass in the box.

Ronaldo’s sharp stepover created the yard of space to get his shot away and his left-footed curler ended up in the top corner.

It was brilliant.

He had his second on the hour mark when Jota was a nuisance once again, stealing possession from a prone Seamus Coleman down the right and passing for Ronaldo to sweep home his 130th international goal.

His 110th and 111th also came against Ireland when Stephen Kenny was the manager.

They were far more dramatic, coming in the 89th and 96th minutes of a World Cup qualifier that snatched a 2-1 win that the former Ireland manager may well look back on as one of many moments that could easily have altered the nature of his stewardship.

This was a fixture of far less significance, although RTÉ pundit James McClean’s assessment was sobering.

“The sad reality is that we’re a million miles away from competing at that level,” the former Ireland international said.

Had Ireland somehow managed to grind out a result in the “horrible” fashion interim boss John O’Shea wished then maybe it wouldn’t have felt like that.

“We can play a lot better than that. We’re disappointed with ourselves, we can play better,” Kelleher, whose player-of-the-match award indicates how busy he was, said.

“We all absolutely love him (O’Shea). We’re trying our hearts out for him. He’s been excellent. We wanted to get results for him.”

O’Shea may look back on Adam Idah’s wild slice into the side netting as a moment when the momentum of this game could have shifted when Ireland only trailed 1-0 in the first half.

But Portugal were in total control and head for Euro 2024 with a handy confidence booster having lost to Croatia last week.

Roberto Martinez brings them to Germany with focus, purpose and ambition.

Ireland, still without a permanent manager, head off on their summer holidays having been burned and beaten by Ronaldo.

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