Is Cristiano Ronaldo’s two-decade scoring feat for Portugal a record?

Plus: who has the most assists at the Euros; winning the FA Cup before the FA Youth Cup and more

Clockwise from top left: Cristiane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Homare Sawa, Stanley Matthews and Pia Sundhage.

Clockwise from top left: Cristiane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Homare Sawa, Stanley Matthews and Pia Sundhage. Composite: Action Images/PA/Shutterstock

“Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal for Portugal on 12 June 2004, which means that if he scores at Euro 2024 (or later) his run of goalscoring for the national team will be over 20 years long. Has any player achieved this?” asks Rui Pereira.

It’s hard to believe anyone in football history has enjoyed breaking goalscoring records as much as Cristiano Ronaldo. The list, all for men’s football, includes most goals in international football, most in the European Championship, most in the Champions League, most World Cups scored in and now most goals in a Saudi Pro League season.

But if he wants to become the man with the longest goalscoring career at international level, he’ll have to be doing the business until at least the next World Cup. And we’ve got the Pathé footage to prove it.

“Every time a question about a player’s longevity comes up, the answer is Stanley Matthews,” writes Jack Hayward. “Matthews was 19 when he scored on his England debut, a 4-0 win over Wales in the Home Championship on 29 September 1934. This was also the competition in which he scored his last England goal, in a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland on 6 October 1956. I wouldn’t put it past Ronaldo to beat his record of 22 years and seven days before he hangs up his boots.”

Another player who reached the 20-year mark is Zambian great Kalusha Bwalya. He scored his first goal against Uganda in July 1984, and his last – by which time he was 41 and also the manager – against Liberia in another World Cup qualifier in September 2004. Bwalya’s international goalscoring career spanned 20 years and 37 days.

Ronaldo’s 129th and 130th goals for Portugal came in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win against Republic of Ireland, which gives him a scoring career of 19 years and 365 days, from 12 June 2004 to 11 June 2024. Portugal begin their European Championship against the Czech Republic on 18 June.

Inevitably, with a question of this nature, there are a few asterisks flying round. “Billy Meredith scored his first goal for Wales in 1896,” tweets Azrie Mir. “His final international goal came in 1919. The caveat: it’s not considered a full international.” The match in 1919 was a Victory International against England. Some countries give those games full international status, but as far as we’re aware Wales aren’t among them. Had that goal counted, Meredith would have beaten Matthews with a scoring career of 23 years and 225 days. Instead it sits at 17 years and 13 days.

That means the player at the top of our list – men and women – is America’s Kristine Lilly. She had just turned 16 when she scored against China in August 1986, and was 38 when she swept in her 130th international goal against Germany in 2010. It came 22 years and 282 days after her first goal.

The most impressive feats of longevity are often in the women’s game, and there are at least seven players who have scored goals for their country across a 20-year period. Pete Tomlin has kindly compiled a list, so we don’t have to do any work.

1) Kristine Lilly (USA, 1987-2010) 22 years and 282 days
2) Christine Sinclair
(Canada, 2000-22) 22 years and 113 days
3) Homare Sawa
(Japan, 1993-2015) 21 years and 169 days
4) Marta
(Brazil, 2003-24) 21 years and 37 days
5) Cristiane
(Brazil, 2003-24) 20 years and 348 days
6) Pia Sundhage
(Sweden, 1975-96) 20 years and 313 days
7) Formiga
(Brazil, 1998-2018) 20 years and 23 days

We can’t go without mentioning the remarkable Lily Parr. Although England didn’t play an official women’s international until 1972, Parr played – and scored – for England XIs throughout her astonishing career. If RSSSF is correct (and if it’s not, what chance do the rest of us have), Parr scored her first goal for England on 1 March 1921, aged 15, and her last on 26 June 1947. That’s a span of 26 years and 117 days.

If Ronaldo wants to beat that, he’ll need to be shouting “Siu!” in October 2030.

Creation records

“Rankings of top scorers at Euros are widely available, but what about players with most assists?” tweets Mykola. “The further in the past, the more difficult they are to find. For example, was any Yugoslav in 1960 particularly good at assisting?”

It’s hard to find really detailed data for old European Championships, men’s or women’s, although Opta did do a fascinating deep dive into Euro 96. The basic stats for the men’s tournaments are on the Uefa site, though, including assists for each edition. We suspect there are a few uncredited assists from the early tournaments but it’s still an interesting list, a mixture of the expected and the surprising.

Karel Poborsky leads the way with eight assists across three European Championships between 1996 and 2004. He’s best remembered for the ingenious scoop to beat Portugal in the quarter-final of Euro 96, but his main role was as a creator: three in 1996, one in 2000 and four in 2004. A splendid portfolio includes a delicious piece of deception when Czech Republic beat Netherlands 3-2 in a bona fide classic.

Vladimir Smicer (left) scores against the Netherlands after a Karel Poborsky assist.
Vladimir Smicer (left) scores against the Netherlands after a Karel Poborsky assist. Photograph: Reuters

Next is a player who isn’t renowned for his love of giving the ball to others in front of goal. But Cristiano Ronaldo has accumulated seven assists down the years, to go with his Euros-record 14 goals. Three of those came at crucial times when they won Euro 2016.

Poborsky and Ronaldo are the only players with more than five assists. There are six more on five, including England’s David Beckham. He made two goals in the first 18 minutes of his first Euros game, against Portugal in 2000, before it all unravelled. England lost 3-2 and Beckham gave England fans the finger in response to extreme abuse.

8 Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic, 1996-2004)
7 Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, 2004-20)
5 David Beckham (England, 2000-04)
Cesc Fàbregas (Spain, 2008-16)
Luis Figo (Portugal, 1996-2004)
Eden Hazard
(Belgium, 2016-20)
Arjen Robben (Netherlands, 2004-12)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany, 2004-16)

Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Michael Owen celebrate after England scored the first goal in the 3-2 defeat by Portugal at Euro 2000.
Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Michael Owen celebrate after England scored the first goal in the 3-2 defeat by Portugal at Euro 2000. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Action Images/Reuters

The list of players on four assists including two lesser-known wide men who got all theirs in a single competition: Yugoslavia’s Ljubinko Drulovic in 2000 and Switzerland’s Steven Zuber last time out.

Four assists is the record for a single Euros. Here’s a full list of the creators-in-chief at each tournament. (A bit of housekeeping – the official Uefa data only has a handful of assists for the early competitions, which suggests a few are missing. We’ve gone with the official data but some other sources such as Be Soccer and World Football credit more players with assists.)

Valentin Bubukin (USSR), Mikheil Meskhi (USSR)

Igor Chislenko (USSR), Carlos Lapetra (Spain), Eduard Mudrik (USSR), Chus Pereda (Spain), Ole Sørensen (Denmark)

Geoff Hurst (England), Giancarlo De Sisti (Italy), Dobrivoje Trivic (Yugoslavia)

Günter Netzer (West Germany)

Rainer Bonhof (West Germany)

Hansi Müller (West Germany), Antonin Panenka (Czechoslovakia), Bernd Schuster (West Germany)

Jean Tigana (France)

Igor Belanov (USSR)

Martin Dahlin (Sweden), Klas Ingesson (Sweden), Ronald Koeman (Netherlands), Brian Laudrup (Denmark), Anders Limpar (Sweden), Flemming Povlsen (Denmark), Frank Rijkaard (Netherlands)

Youri Djorkaeff (France), Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic)

Ljubinko Drulovic (Yugoslavia)

Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic)

Hamit Altintop (Turkey), Cesc Fàbregas (Spain), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)

Andriy Arshavin (Russia), Steven Gerrard (England), Mesut Özil (Germany), David Silva (Spain)

Eden Hazard (Belgium), Aaron Ramsey (Wales)

Steven Zuber (Switzerland)

Cristiano Ronaldo sets up Ricardo Quaresma’s winning goal for Portugal against Croatia in the last 16 of Euro 2016.
Cristiano Ronaldo sets up Ricardo Quaresma’s winning goal for Portugal against Croatia in the last 16 of Euro 2016. Photograph: Reuters Staff/Reuters

Finally, if you’re into the whole goals + assists thing, Ronaldo is miles clear.

  • 21 Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, 14+7)

  • 10 Antoine Griezmann (France, 7+3), Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic 2+8)

  • 9 Michel Platini (France 9+0), Jurgen Klinsmann (West Germany/Germany 5+4)

  • 8 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, 6+2), Marco van Basten (Netherlands 5+3), Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands 4+4), Cesc Fàbregas (Spain, 3+5), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany, 3+5), David Silva (Spain 3+5).

Men II Boyz

In last week’s Knowledge we looked at the shortest time between two players winning the FA Youth Cup and then the FA Cup. But, as Christopher Carroll points out, West Ham’s Paul Allen did it the other way round. He was 17 when West Ham beat Arsenal 1-0 in the 1980 FA Cup final. Allen was through on goal with a couple of minutes remaining when Willie Young cynically killed Bambi. He then featured as West Ham won the Youth Cup in 1981.

Knowledge archive

“What is the largest attendance ever recorded for a European Championship game?” mused Katie Bell in 2012.

A Hampden Park qualifier between Scotland and England in 1968 has held on to the title for the last 44 years (2024 update: 56 years). The 130,711 packed in on 24 February that day witnessed Martin Peters’ 20th-minute goal cancelled out by a John Hughes equaliser. Writing in the next day’s Observer, Hugh McIlvanney explained (reporting an even greater gate):

England are through to the quarter-finals of the European Nations Cup by virtue of a result that may give sober satisfaction, but is hardly an excuse for a celebration. The 134,000 who crowded Hampden with their noise and commitment had come to see a showdown, the decider between Sir Alf Ramsey’s world champions and the team that have slapped them in the face embarrassingly often over the past few seasons.

They wanted the finality of a gun-fight. Instead, they were given a settlement by mathematics as Scotland, despite taking three points out of the four at stake in their meetings with England, paid for their miserable failures against humbler opposition in the two-year qualifying series.

The Knowledge archive

Can you help?

“Eight neighbouring countries of hosts Germany will compete in Euro 2024: Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Netherlands. Is this a record?” asks M Mete Altintas.

Who has played the most international matches without ever playing an international match outside their own country?

— Ben (@BenJaneson) June 11, 2024

“The second leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final between Toronto and Hamilton Forge will be played on 28 August. That’s 49 days after the first leg. Is this a record?” wonders Shawn Stackhouse.

“On the last day of the season, James Shea of Luton Town made his Premier League debut. He was first named in a Premier League squad on 15 January 2011 as an unused sub for Arsenal against West Ham. Are those 13-plus years the longest a player has had to wait for their debut after being named in a matchday squad?” asks Kevin Diggerson.

Ireland has qualified for three European Championships (1988, 2012, 2016). We’ve never had a player from our domestic League in our squad. What’s the closest any other country has come to this? Excepting Wales, who’ve had players from Welsh clubs playing in the English Leagues.

— Mike (@themikeslattery) June 5, 2024

“Williot Swedberg made his debut for the Swedish national team on Saturday. His parents, Hans Eskilsson and Malin Swedberg, also played for Sweden. Are there any other families who can match this feat?” wonders Joakim Kingström.

“Has a player who is not attached to a club ever won the European Championship?” ponders George Jones. “Presumably Tony Kroos, whose Real Madrid contract expires on 30 June, could achieve this feat if Germany win the tournament before he retires.”

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