Ronaldo's hat-trick rescues Portugal
Forward scores hat-trick to single-handedly help his side to a 3-2 victory over Armenia, which keeps them on top of Group I
Yerevan: Cristiano Ronaldo scored his third successive hat-trick for club and country as 10-man Portugal survived a big scare to beat Armenia 3-2 and remain clear at the top of their European Championship qualifying group.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates a goal against Armenia in Yerevan on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Marcos Pizzelli's brilliant 30-yard free-kick gave Armenia a surprise lead but Ronaldo equalised from the spot before half-time and the Real Madrid superstar then struck twice in three minutes before the hour to put Portugal in control in Yerevan. That followed Ronaldo's hat-tricks for Real in their final two Primera Division games against Espanyol and Getafe and increased his record-breaking tally of European Championship goals to 26.
However, Portugal were still made to sweat for the victory as they lost Tiago to a red card in the 62nd minute before seeing Armenia pull a goal back 11 minutes later through Hrayr Mkoyan. Armenia pushed for what would have been a shock draw, but they could not find an equaliser as Portugal's 10 men held on for the victory that keeps them on course for the Euro 2016 finals.
Portugal started the weekend with a two-point lead over Denmark and Albania in Group I and firm favourites to make it four wins from five games against last-placed Armenia. The visitors were stunned in the 14th minute, though, when Pizzelli smashed a long-range free-kick in off the underside of the crossbar with goalkeeper Rui Patricio helpless.
Portugal were only behind for 15 minutes, however, with Ronaldo sending home keeper Roman Berezovsky the wrong way from the penalty spot after Henrikh Mkhitaryan had brought down Joao Moutinho inside the box. The Portugal captain then scored twice in quick succession at the start of the second half to make it 3-1.
That should also have sealed the points for Portugal, but they were forced to hang on in the end after seeing midfielder Tiago sent off for a second yellow card and Armenia get to within one goal when Mkoyan slotted home after Rui Patricio had parried a shot.
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