Cristiano Ronaldo has international goal record in his sights but Harry Kane hot on his heels
Cristiano Ronaldo had scored 32 goals for Portugal before celebrating his 27th birthday. With the Juventus forward now just one goal away from breaking the 100 barrier on the international stage, it is worth remembering where he stood when he was the same age as Harry Kane.
Kane, who is 27 next July, took his own international tally to 32 during England's 4-0 Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Kosovo on Sunday, and his goal in Pristina was enough to move him one clear of Ronaldo -- and Israel's Eran Zahavi -- to end the qualifying campaign as top scorer with 12 goals.
Ronaldo will be 35 next February, but despite the years in his legs, he was still able to make 2019 the most productive year of his career in terms of goals for his country by netting 14 times for the European champions (including a hat trick in the Nations League). During 2019, Ronaldo has scored hat tricks against Switzerland and Lithuania, who he also hit four against in Vilnius in October.
But if there is a sense of Ronaldo scoring goals like a man in a hurry, it is probably because he knows that he must set the bar incredibly high during the final years of his career in order to ensure that any milestones he goes on to set prove to be beyond the chasing pack. The 100th goal will surely come before the Euro 2020 finals (stream live next summer on ESPN+ in U.S.).
Ronaldo, Portugal, and every company associated with the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star will want to make sure that the century barrier is broken sooner rather than later so that the achievement attracts the spotlight it deserves. Who, and where, Portugal play next will almost certainly be arranged to suit the Ronaldo machine, although it might be pushing it to suggest that San Marino should be offered a friendly game in Lisbon next March.
But once the 100th goal is scored, the next target will be the world record of 109 goals, set by Iran's Ali Daei between 1993 and 2006, and few would bet against Ronaldo making it 110, and beyond, in 2020. Time will catch up with Ronaldo soon, however, and he will be acutely aware of who is most likely to go close to whatever tally he ends up with.
Lionel Messi is now on 70 goals for Argentina following his penalty against Uruguay on Monday, but at 32 and having already announced one international retirement, in 2016, it is doubtful that the Barcelona star will stick around long enough to hit at least another 40 international goals.
Neymar, with 61 goals in 101 appearances for Brazil, has a chance, but with his 28th birthday looming in February and his career treading water at Paris Saint-Germain, it is fair to question whether his best days are already behind him.
Romelu Lukaku is two months younger than Kane and the Inter Milan forward has already bagged 52 goals for Belgium, so he is a clear threat to Ronaldo's eventual tally if the Belgians can sustain their status as one of the world's best international teams.
But Kane is perhaps the one player who Ronaldo should fear most, simply because he appears to share the same voracious, even selfish, appetite for goals. The Tottenham striker has scored 18 goals for England since the start of the World Cup last year -- the same as Ronaldo -- and he has become as lethal against the weaker nations as the Portuguese forward. Since the start of Russia 2018, Kane has hit hat tricks against Panama, Bulgaria and Montenegro and also boosted his tally with two goals against both Tunisia and Kosovo.
Kane went into the World Cup as England's joint-32nd highest scorer on 14 goals -- level with Paul Scholes -- but less than 18 months later, he stands in sixth place, on 32, with a serious chance of breaking Wayne Rooney's record of 53 within the next few years. The Tottenham man certainly has momentum on his side, and, like Ronaldo, he has claimed penalty-taking duties for his country. Ronaldo has scored three penalties for Portugal in 2019, while Kane has scored four, and missed one, for England this year.
But although Kane now has a virtually identical record to Ronaldo at the same stage of his international career, the latter accelerated toward 100 by hitting 67 goals for his country since turning 27. Emulating that incredible consistency will be the big challenge for Kane, who has already suffered a number of ankle injuries during his career. Form and fitness are everything for a top player, but Kane possesses the same determination as Ronaldo to score at every possible opportunity.
And with England appearing to be a nation on the rise under Gareth Southgate, the likelihood is that there will be more emphatic victories over the lower-ranked nations in the years ahead -- fixtures that will give Kane the opportunity to do what he has become so good at recently, by taking advantage of weaker opponents.
Ronaldo is in a different league right now, but with luck on his side, Kane might prove to be the one who goes closest to catching him.