Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero yet again, as his hat-trick kept Portugal on top of Group I after their 3-2 win against a stubborn Armenia, with goals from Marcos Pizzelli and Hrayr Mkoyan proving to be mere consolatons for the hosts in the European Championship qualification match played on Saturday.

Armenia took the lead in just the 14th min of the game through Pizzelli, who hit a stunning free kick from 40 yards out to shock the Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio, who wasn’t expecting a shot from that distance.

But Armenia’s advantage did not last long, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan fouled Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo scored from the resulting spot kick to level the scoreline just before the half hour mark.

The Armenia fans tried to intimidate Ronaldo by persisting with the chants of ‘Messi! Messi!’, and the Portuguese replied in style. His second goal came in the 55th minute from a defensive error from Mkoyan as he failed to deal with a long ball and Arzumanyan was waiting for Berezovski to come and collect. Ronaldo pounced on the ball and flicked it over the keeper and into the empty net.

But the Real Madrid star was not finished yet. Just 3 minutes later, Ronaldo controlled a loose kick from Patricio and unleashed an unstoppable 25-yard pile-driver that flew into the top corner. That was the Portuguese’s 55th goal for the national team in his 120 appearances.

For the last half hour of the game, Portugal were forced to hold their lead with 10 men after midfielder Tiago received his second booking for a needless trip in the middle of the pitch. In the 72nd minute, Patricio had a nightmare as he spilled substitute Aras Ozbiliz’s shot at the feet of Mkoyan, who fired the ball into the roof of the net.

That goal set up a thrilling finish to the game, but Portugal were just able to see out the remaining time and earned a hard-fought victory over Armenia.

Later after the match, Ronaldo posted a video message on his Twitter account stating that he was happy with his team being on the verge of qualification for next year’s tournament in France.

“I wanted to share with you this extraordinary moment we lived with the national team,” the Ballon d’Or holder said. “It was an awesome moment. We’ve taken a major step forward in this qualifying phase.”

Portugal’s next qualifying game comes in September, when they will face Albania before meeting Denmark the following month.

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