Cristiano Ronaldo moved on to 75 international goals for Portugal when he opened the scoring from the penalty spot in Saturday’s 4-0 win over New Zealand at the Confederations Cup.
It means, heading into Wednesday’s semi-final against Chile in Kazan, the Real Madrid superstar is only two goals behind the great Pele on the all-time list, as the seventh most prolific international player globally and second in European history.
But who are the players Ronaldo is yet to overhaul and how much of a dent can he make in the list if Portugal go the distance in Russia over the course of this week? Of course a key rival in international goal count will be Lionel Messi, the Argentina star has 58 goals in 118 appearances for his country and is a year and a half younger than Ronaldo.
ALI DAEI – IRAN (109 goals)
Ronaldo still has some way to go if he wishes to overhaul Iran hero Daei, who played 149 times for his country in an international career spanning 23 years. Between 1993 and 2006, the one-time Hertha Berlin and Bayern Munich striker plundered an astonishing 109 goals for his country. He was on target in a 3-1 Asian Cup qualifying defeat against Kuwait in December 2003 to move to the top of this list but duly kept going, storming into three figures with a four-goal haul in a 7-0 thumping of Laos during a World Cup qualifier the following November. Daei turned his hand to coaching Iran, unsuccessfully, between 2008 and 2009, and was appointed as the boss of former club Saipa last month.
FERENC PUSKAS – HUNGARY (84 goals)
An undisputed Real Madrid great of the club’s first golden era, Puskas is the only remaining European player ahead of Ronaldo, after the 32-year-old pulled level with the Hungarian’s countryman, ex-Barcelona forward Sandor Kocsis, at the weekend. Before defecting from Communist Hungary and relaunching their careers in western Europe, they helped to established the “Magical Magyars” as one of the most feared and revered international teams of all-time – almost certainly the finest never to lift the World Cup, and one that dazzled a stunned Wembley in 1953 by thumping England 6-3. Puskas scored twice in that game and four times at the 1954 World Cup, where Hungary’s controversial loss to West Germany in the final was their only defeat in a six-year period spanning 50 games.
KUNISHIGE KAMAMOTO – JAPAN (80 goals)
Widely considered the finest Japanese player ever, Kamamoto raced to his 80-goal tally in quick time, taking only 84 internationals to run up his total. A one-club man who spent his career with Yanmar Diesel, the prolific striker’s career highlight with the Samurai Blue came in 1968 when he helped them towards the Olympic bronze medal – netting a hat-trick against Nigeria – although he never graced a World Cup.
HUSSEIN SAEED – IRAQ (78 goals)
A second long-serving Middle Eastern goal-getter, Hussein represented Iraq between 1976 and 1990, notching 78 strikes in 137 appearances. Like Kamamoto, stability at club level appears to have laid a solid foundation, as he remained at Al-Talaba throughout his playing days. With Iraq, Hussein won the Gulf Cup of Nations in 1979 and 1982 and an Asian Games gold medal in 1982.
PELE – BRAZIL (77 goals)
The well of superlatives to describe Edson Arantes do Nascimento has long been exhausted but it is indisputable that none of the other goal hauls on this list have yielded such handsome returns. Pele’s contribution came in a career encompassing four World Cups, three of which he won, scoring in two finals. His semi-final hat-trick and final brace in 1958 as a teen sensation serve as the beginning of a global footballing story more celebrated than any other, while his iconic header against Italy in the 1970 final set in motion Brazil’s finest hour.
GODFREY CHITALU – ZAMBIA (76 goals)
The next man in Ronaldo’s sights and, on current form, probably not for much longer. Alongside his prolific goalscoring exploits, which came in Zambia colours between 1968 and 1980, Chitalu has another more unlikely trait in common with Ronaldo – being the scourge of Lionel Messi. In 2012, when Messi hit 86 goals in a calendar year to beat Gerd Muller’s record, the Zambian FA claimed Chitalu had in fact netted 107 times in 1972, the year Bayern Munich and Germany great Muller set his initial best mark. Chitalu went on to coach Zambia but was one of 30 people tragically killed in 1993 when the team’s plane crashed en route to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal.
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