2001–2007: Youth level and senior debut
In 2001, Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal's under-15 team. Ronaldo played for the under-15, under-17, under-20, under-21, and under-23 national teams during his international youth career, earning 34 youth caps and tallying a total of 18 goals.
At the age of 18, Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal as a senior player in a 1-0 victory against Kazakhstan on August 20, 2003. He replaced Luis Figo at halftime. He was then selected for the UEFA Euro 2004 tournament, which was held in his home nation, and on his eighth appearance for Portugal, in a 2-1 loss to eventual champions Greece in the group stage, he scored his first international goal. He helped Portugal go to the final by scoring the first goal in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands after scoring on his penalty in a shootout against England in the quarterfinals. Along with his two goals, he also contributed two assists, earning a spot on the tournament's all-star team.
With seven goals, Ronaldo finished second among Portuguese scorers in their FIFA World Cup qualification group. His first World Cup goal came during the competition against Iran in Portugal's second group stage match, which he scored from the spot-kick. Ronaldo scored the youngest goal for Portugal in a World Cup final at the age of 21 years and 132 days.
Ronaldo was forced off the field with an injury in the first half of Portugal's notoriously shoddy round of 16 game against the Netherlands following a tackle from Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz. Although Boulahrouz was able to make a full recovery in time to play in the following match, Ronaldo charged that Boulahrouz had intentionally tried to hurt him after Portugal's 1-0 victory. Wayne Rooney, a teammate of Ronaldo's at Manchester United, was dismissed from the match against England in the quarterfinals after stamping on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho. The English media conjectured that Ronaldo had influenced the referee's decision by aggressively complaining, and after Rooney was sent off, he was seen in replays winking at Portugal's bench. Although the referee later clarified that the red card was only given as a result of Rooney's infraction, it was believed by the English media that Ronaldo had done so.
Ronaldo eventually made the crucial winning penalty in the shootout, sending Portugal into the semifinals. After that, Ronaldo was jeered during their 1-0 semifinal loss to France. His behavior was cited by FIFA's Technical Study Group as a factor in their decision to award the tournament's Best Young Player award to Germany's Lukas Podolski rather than him. Ronaldo went on to play for Portugal in four Euro 2008 qualifying matches after the 2006 World Cup, scoring two goals in the process.
2007–2012: Assuming the captaincy
In a friendly match against Brazil on February 6, 2007, one day after turning 22, Ronaldo led Portugal for the first time at the request of Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) president Carlos Silva, who had passed away two days previously. He received the number 7 jersey for the first time prior to Euro 2008. While he had the second-highest goal total in the qualifying rounds with eight goals, he only managed one goal during the actual competition, scoring the second goal in a 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic.
He also assisted in Portugal's third goal, which Quaresma scored in stoppage time, in the same game, earning him the game's MVP honors. Portugal's 3-2 loss to eventual champion Germany in the quarterfinals resulted in their elimination.
Luiz Felipe Scolari was replaced as coach by Carlos Queiroz, a former assistant manager at United, after Portugal's unsuccessful showing at Euro 2008. In July 2008, Queiroz appointed Cristiano Ronaldo the group's permanent captain. As Portugal narrowly avoided being eliminated early from the tournament with a play-off victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ronaldo failed to register a single goal in the qualification for the 2010 World Cup. In the World Cup group stage, he won the game-of-the-match award in each of the three games he played in—against North Korea, Brazil, and Ivory Coast. His lone goal of the competition came in their 7-0 rout of North Korea, his first goal for 16 months on the international stage. Portugal's World Cup campaign came to an end in the round of 16 when they were defeated 1-0 by eventual champions Spain.
Ronaldo helped Portugal qualify for Euro 2012 with seven goals, including two goals against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the play-offs. Portugal was placed in a "group of death" for the tournament. Ronaldo scored twice against the Netherlands in the last group stage match to secure a 2-1 victory. In the quarterfinal matchup with the Czech Republic, he scored a header to give his team a 1-0 victory. He received the man of the match award in each of the matches against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Portugal lost the penalty shootout following a scoreless semifinal match against Spain. Ronaldo was supposed to fill the open fifth spot, but he chose not to.
2012–2016: All-time Portugal top scorer and European champion
Ronaldo scored a total of eight goals during the 2014 World Cup qualification. He received his 100th cap in a qualification game on October 17, 2012, a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland. On September 6, 2013, in a 4-2 qualifying victory over Northern Ireland, he also recorded his first career hat-trick, scoring three goals in a 15-minute span. After Portugal didn't make the tournament during the regular season, Ronaldo scored all four of the team's goals against Sweden in the play-off match, which was hyped as a matchup between Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovi. This secured Portugal's spot in the competition. With his hat-trick in the second leg, he tied Pauleta's record for most goals scored in a single international game with 47. On March 5, 2014, Ronaldo scored twice in a 5-1 friendly victory against Cameroon to surpass Pele as his nation's all-time leading scorer.
Despite having patellar tendinitis and a linked thigh injury, Ronaldo participated in the competition, possibly putting his future at risk. Later, Ronaldo said: "I would feel more at ease if our team included two or three Cristiano Ronaldos. We don't, though." Ronaldo played the entire 90 minutes of the opening game against Germany despite recurring concerns about his fitness and having to cancel two practices. However, he was unable to stop a 4-0 loss. He scored the game-winning goal in overtime of a 2-1 victory over Ghana after helping to set up a late 2-2 tie against the United States. He became the first Portuguese player to play and score in three World Cups with his 50th goal for his country. At the end of the group stage, Portugal was eliminated from the competition based on goal differential.
In order to qualify for Euro 2016, Ronaldo scored five goals, including a hat-trick against Armenia. On November 14, 2014, he scored the lone goal in another victory over Armenia to reach 23 goals overall in the UEFA European Championship, including the qualifying games, and take the all-time scoring lead for the event. Despite having 20 shots on goal at the beginning of the tournament, Ronaldo did not score in Portugal's 0-0 draws with Iceland and Austria. His 128th international appearance in the latter game, which was scoreless because he missed a penalty in the second half, saw him pass Figo
as Portugal's most capped player. Ronaldo, who made a tournament record 17 appearances, became the first player to score in four European Championships with two goals in the final group stage match, a 3-3 draw against Hungary. His team didn't win any of their games, but thanks to the competition's newly expanded format, they still made it to the knockout round despite finishing third in their group behind Hungary and Iceland. At the end of the group stage, Portugal was eliminated from the competition based on goal differential.
Ricardo Quaresma scored late in extra time to give Portugal a 1-0 victory in their opening round of play after Croatia's goalkeeper Danijel Subai parried Ronaldo's one shot on goal. Ronaldo became the first player to play in three European Championship semi-finals after his team advanced over Poland on penalties, with Ronaldo scoring Portugal's first penalty. He also tied Michel Platini for most goals scored in the history of the tournament with nine goals by scoring the opening goal in Portugal's 2-0 victory over Wales. Ronaldo was forced off the field in the final against the hosts France after only 25 minutes due to a challenge from Dimitri Payet. Despite numerous treatments and attempts to continue, he was stretchered off the field and replaced by Quaresma.
Portugal won 1-0 after extra time thanks to a 109th-minute goal from substitute Eder. Ronaldo, who served as team captain, raised the trophy in celebration of his nation's first victory in a major competition. With three goals and three assists, he was nominated to the tournament team for the third time in his career, earning the Silver Boot as the joint second-highest scorers.
2016–2018: Post-European Championship victory and World Cup
Ronaldo played his first professional game on his native Madeira island on March 28, 2017, at the age of 32, opening a 2-3 friendly loss to Sweden at the Estádio dos Barreiros, following the Euro 2016 victory. With the score, he surpassed Miroslav Klose to tie for third place among European football scorers with 71 goals.
Ronaldo assisted Quaresma in Portugal's first goal of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup against Mexico on June 17. The result was a 2-2 draw. He scored in a 1-0 victory over the hosts Russia three days later. Ronaldo scored his 75th international goal on June 24, tying Sándor Kocsis for second-highest European international goalscorer all-time, just behind Ferenc Puskás, as Portugal defeated New Zealand 4-0 to win their group and move on to the semifinals of the competition. In all three of Portugal's group stage contests, he was hailed as the game's best player. Ronaldo left the competition early and was permitted to return home to be with his newborn children after Chile defeated Portugal 3-0 on penalties in the semifinals. He missed Portugal's third-place play-off match, which Portugal won 2-1 in overtime against Mexico.
On August 31, 2017, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 victory over the Faroe Islands in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match, passing Pelé and tying Hussein Saeed for the joint-fifth-most goals scored in international football with 78. He now has 14 goals in the World Cup qualifying matches, which ties Predrag Mijatovi's record for the most goals in a single UEFA qualifying campaign. He also broke the record for the most goals scored in a European qualifying group, surpassing David Healy and Robert Lewandowski's previous mark of 13 goals. With his hat-trick, Ronaldo increased his tally of World Cup qualifying goals to 29, surpassing Andriy Shevchenko to hold the record for most goals scored in UEFA qualifiers. With 32 goals overall, he also holds the record for most goals scored in World Cup qualifiers and finals games combined, beating Miroslav Klose. Ronaldo later added to this total by scoring in a 2-0 victory over Andorra.
Ronaldo scored three goals in the opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Portugal against Spain on June 15, becoming the oldest player to accomplish so. His third goal came on a 30-yard curling free kick with two minutes remaining. In doing so, he became one of four players of any nationality and the first player from Portugal to score in four World Cups. Ronaldo broke Puskás' record as the most prolific European scorer of all time on June 20 when he scored the sole goal in a 1-0 victory over Morocco. Puskás had previously scored 85 goals in international play.
Ronaldo missed a penalty in the final group encounter against Iran on June 25, resulting in a 1-1 draw that saw Portugal advance to the second round as the group's runner-up to Spain. Portugal was eliminated on June 30 after losing to Uruguay 2-1 in the round of 16. Ronaldo was included on the World Cup Dream Team due to his performance in the competition.
2018–2020: Nations League title and 100 international goals
Ronaldo missed six international games after the World Cup, including the entire league stage of the UEFA Nations League in 2018–19, but he participated for Portugal in the inaugural Nations League Finals in June 2019. He reached the final by scoring a hat-trick against Switzerland in the semi-finals on June 5. He broke the record he previously held with Ghana's Asamoah Gyan by scoring the game's first goal, becoming the first player to score in 10 straight international competitions. Four days later, Portugal defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in the tournament's championship game.
Ronaldo broke the previous record of Robbie Keane (23 goals) as the player with the most goals in the UEFA European Championship qualifying on September 10, 2019, when he scored four goals in a 5-1 away win over Lithuania in a Euro 2020 qualifying game. Along with finishing his eighth international hat-trick, he also established a new record for scoring against the most national teams (40). In his 974th senior career appearance, on October 14, he scored his 700th senior career goal for club and country from the penalty spot in a 2-1 away loss to Ukraine in a Euro 2020 qualifier. Portugal qualified for Euro 2020 on November 17 thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's 99th international goal in a 2-0 victory over Luxembourg. Ronaldo became the second male player in history (after Ali Daei of Iran) to reach this milestone when he scored his 100th and 101st international goals in a 2-0 away victory over Sweden in a 2020–21 UEFA Nations League match on September 8, 2020. He also became the first player in Europe to do so. Ronaldo tested positive for COVID-19 on October 13 despite not having any symptoms, the FPF reported. Ronaldo had recovered by October 30.
2021–present: All-time international top goalscorer
Ronaldo scored twice in Portugal's 3-0 victory over Hungary in their opening Euro 2020 match on June 15, 2021, in Budapest. As the leading scorer in the history of the European Championship, he now has a total of 11 goals, two more than Michel Platini. He also made history by being the first player to score at five Euros and in 11 straight competitions. With the two goals, Ronaldo became the competition's oldest player to score two goals in a game and the oldest player to score for Portugal in a major tournament. He tied Daei's record of 109 goals for all time on June 23 when he netted two penalties in Portugal's 2-2 draw with France in their last group stage game. Portugal was eliminated on June 27 after losing 1-0 to Belgium in the round of 16. Ronaldo shared the Golden Boot award during the tournament with Patrik Schick of the Czech Republic after scoring five goals and providing one assist.
In a 2-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland at home on September 1 in a World Cup qualifying match at the Estádio Algarve, Ronaldo not only broke the men's international scoring record with his 110th and 111th goals, but he also passed Ali Daei to become the lone record holder. His second headed goal came just seconds before the final whistle. He broke Sergio Ramos' record for the most international appearances by a European player on October 9 at the Estádio Algarve, where he also scored the first goal in a 3-0 friendly victory over Qatar. This was his 181st appearance for his country.
Ronaldo was selected for Portugal's team to compete in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will be his sixth World Cup overall. Ronaldo converted a penalty kick on November 24 in Portugal's opening game against Ghana to become the first male player to score in five different World Cups. Ronaldo's own coach chastised him for his response to being replaced in the last group match against South Korea. For the first time since Euro 2008, he did not start a game for Portugal in a significant international competition when he was left off the starting lineup for Portugal's encounter against Switzerland in the round of 16.
Moreover, it was the first time since Euro 2000 that Portugal had opened a knockout game without Ronaldo in the starting lineup. With Ronaldo's replacement Gonçalo Ramos scoring a hat-trick, Portugal won 6-1, their biggest score in a World Cup knockout game since the 1966 World Cup, when he came off the bench. Ronaldo again came off the bench as Portugal used the same tactic against Morocco in the quarterfinals. In doing so, he tied Bader Al-record Mutawa's for most international appearances and surpassed him to tie for the second-most caps of any male football player in history with 196. Morocco became the first ever CAF country to go to the World Cup semifinals when Portugal fell to them 1-0.