RIYADH: There is not much that Cristiano Ronaldo has not won, or achieved on a personal level, in his glorious career.
But the Portuguese ace will have to shoot down two records set in the Middle East if he is to become international football’s highest goal scorer and appearance-maker in the coming months and years.
It has become generally accepted that Ronaldo, 36, will, sooner rather than later, move clear of Iran’s Ali Daei at the top of the international goalscoring charts but there are two Arab stars he has to keep an eye on if he wants to take the other major international accolade.
On Friday, 48 hours before Portugal were eliminated from Euro 2020 with a 1-0 loss to Belgium in Seville, Kuwait were losing 2-0 to Bahrain in qualification for the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Doha.
For a proud football nation that won the 1980 Asian Cup and appeared at the 1982 World Cup, it was another disappointing result, but it was a significant game, nonetheless. That was because it saw Bader Al-Mutawa make his 185th international appearance for Kuwait to break the world record held by Ahmed Hassan of Egypt.
While the result meant that Kuwait failed to qualify for the FIFA Arab Cup, the match marked an incredible achievement for the 36-year-old.
“I couldn’t have achieved this without the support of my team-mates and everyone involved in Kuwaiti football. It is a real honor, and I am very proud to make it this far even though we lost the game,” he said.
Kuwait’s glory days may long be over, but Al-Mutawa is giving fans in the country something to cheer about.
“The only negative is that the result is not what we wanted, and we did not qualify for the tournament. But we have to look forward and keep trying to improve and this is the most important thing,” he added.
Al-Mutawa made his debut in 2003 with two goals against Singapore in qualification for the 2004 Asian Cup. He has gone on to score 54 goals for the Blues and face 44 different national teams.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr, one of his former clubs where he had a short but fruitful loan spell in 2007, were just one sender of congratulations. “Our international star has made 185 appearances in the world and congratulations on this achievement, you deserve it,” the Riyadh giants said in statement.
The Kuwaiti now leads two other Arab players. Hassan made his 184th appearance for Egypt against Togo in 2012, while Ahmed Mubarak of Oman is in third with 180 caps. That is the same number as Sergio Ramos and Al-Mutawa may have been secretly delighted with the decision by the Spanish coach not to select Ramos for the European Championships squad.
The biggest threat to Al-Mutawa’s record in the coming months is a certain Ronaldo who has scored 109 goals to equal the haul of Daei but has been going strong in the appearance rankings also.
Portugal’s loss to Belgium in the second round of Euro 2020 on Sunday was cap number 179 and he is now just six behind the Kuwaiti. Assuming that Ronaldo continues to play for his country, and the signs are that he will, then he will be in action in qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
Unfortunately, Kuwait’s loss to Bahrain will limit Al-Mutawa’s appearances as he will not take part in the Arab Cup. The Blues also failed to reach the third round of World Cup qualification.
It is ironic that while Ronaldo will be aiming to catch Al-Mutawa over the next few months, he will be looking over his shoulder at another Arab legend when it comes to international goals scored. It is only a matter of time before Ronaldo gets goal number 110, but it is debatable as to exactly how long he will hold the record because Ali Mabkhout is not far behind in terms of goals and quite some distance back in terms of years.
The UAE player has been busy for his country and finished the second round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup as top scorer with 11 goals, a haul that has taken the Al-Jazira marksman onto 76 for his country. That is now 33 goals behind Ronaldo, but the Middle Eastern based striker has time on his side. At 30, he is a full six years younger than his Juventus counterpart.
It is likely that Ronaldo will continue through qualification for Qatar and, given that Portugal should qualify then there will be quite a few games. Yet the same should be the case for the UAE. In the coming months there is the third round of qualification for the World Cup, the Arab Cup, and Gulf Cup in December, the 2023 Asian Cup and all the rest.
With a good few years left in international football, there is no reason why Mabkhout cannot keep scoring for some time to come. Ronaldo may soon hold the record for most international goals as well as appearances, but he may not hold both prizes for as long as he thinks.