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 I.
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.
Denmark kept themselves within touching distance of Portugal at the top with a 2-0 win over Serbia.
An early goal from Yussuf Poulsen and a late strike from substitute Jakob Poulsen proved decisive for the Danes in Copenhagen.
In Group D Andre Schurrle’s hat-trick helped Germany overcome a sluggish first half to put Gibraltar to the sword with a 7-0 win.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s early penalty miss summed up a frustrating opening period for the world champions as they only led by Schurrle’s 28th-minute strike at the break.
However, it was a completely different story in the second half as Germany ran in six further goals to complete the expected drubbing of minnows Gibraltar at the Estadio Algarve in Portugal.
Schurrle added two more goals for his second international hat-truck, while Max Kruse – a first-half replacement for Mario Gotze – added two of his own with Ilkay Gundogan and Karim Bellarabi also on the scoresheet.
The win sees Germany climb back up to second in Group D, a point behind leaders Poland, while international newcomers Gibraltar remain rock bottom without a point and now having conceded 34 goals in their six qualifiers.
Robert Lewandowski hit a dramatic hat-trick in the closing stages as Poland thrashed Georgia 4-0 in Warsaw.
Lewandowski struck in the 89th minute and then twice in injury time as Poland finally put a realistic slant on the scoreline of a one-sided encounter at the Narodowy Stadium.
Arkadiusz Milik had opened the scoring just after the hour when he finally beat superb Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria with a long-range shot.
Zoltan Stieber claimed a late winner as Hungary recorded a narrow 1-0 victory over Finland in their qualifier at the Olympiastadion on Saturday.
The former Aston Villa youth player netted after 82 minutes to claim all three points as Hungary widened the gap to their fourth-placed opponents to seven points in the Group F table and kept the pressure on the top two – Romania and Northern Ireland – in Helsinki.
At the bottom end, Greece’s dismal campaign continued as they crashed to a second shock loss to the Faroe Islands, 2-1.
Hallur Hansson opened the scoring for the hosts after 32 minutes in Torshavn before Brandur Olsen doubled the advantage 20 minutes from time.
Greece did hit the woodwork through Kostas Mitroglou and Nikos Karelis, who also had a shot cleared off the line, and pulled one back late on through Sokratis Papastathopoulos, but it was not enough for the 2004 champions.
Copa America . . .
** Paraguay came from two goals down to claim a a share of the spoils from a late 2-2 draw in their Copa America’s Group B opener against Argentina in La Serena.
Argentina went 2-0 up thanks to first-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi but their opponents struck back through Nelson Haedo Valdez and Luca Barrios for a point at Estadio La Portada.
The result leaves Argentina second in the group standings, with Paraguay below them level with one point after Cristian Rodriguez handed leaders Uruguay a 1-0 triumph against Jamaica in the other Group B clash.
Argentina started brightest and controlled the pace of the match in the opening exchanges.
They took the lead on the half-hour mark as Manchester City striker Aguero broke the deadlock as he intercepted a soft pass back from Paraguay’s Miguel Samudio to his goalkeeper Antony Silva and netted his side’s opening goal of the tournament.
Five minutes late, Miguel Samudio brought down Angel Di Maria in the box and Barcelona striker Messi doubled Argentina’s advantage from the penalty spot to hand them a 2-0 lead at the break.
Paraguay forward Valdez finished off a great shot with the Albirroja’s first goal of the match from outside the box to reduce the deficit near the hour mark, while Luca Barrios equalised with a late volley.