Cristiano Ronaldo last night made a tearful young fan’s night by giving a girl his Portugal shirt and a hug after she ran onto the pitch to meet the striker in Dublin.
The adoring fan was so overcome with emotion she ignored the security guards and wrapped her arms around the Manchester United star for a second time after he gave her the jersey.
Ronaldo, 36, who was accosted by another fanatical supporter during the match itself, took it all in his stride, patting the girl on the head and saying something to try and calm her down.
The delighted girl was escorted back to the stands where she stood proudly holding the shirt for the cameras.
It came after a frustrating night for the talisman after Portugal were held to a 0-0 draw by a dogged Irish defence at the Aviva stadium.
One fan invaded the pitch in a desperate attempt to meet Cristiano Ronaldo after the game
Despite initial attempts by stewards to stop her, Ronaldo soon greeted her with a hug
Ronaldo also gave the supporter his match shirt, which she stands proudly with afterwards
Late in the second half he found rare space from defenders – and fans – to make headed contact with an Andre Gomes cross, only to glance his effort narrowly wide across goal.
The United star then had another chance with the final attack of the match in stoppage time, looking to score from an acute angle instead of passing the ball back for team-mate Joao Felix to convert.
Despite failing to win in Dublin, the draw was enough to take Portugal back on top of Group A on goal difference ahead of Serbia, who they will host in Lisbon on Sunday needing only a draw to secure qualification for next winter’s World Cup finals in Qatar.
Brighton defender Shane Duffy gave a ringing endorsement of Ireland gaffer Stephen Kenny after the match despite failing to qualify for Qatar after a disastrous start to their Group A fixtures.
Kenny, who replaced Mick McCarthy at the helm in April last year, will be out of contract next summer, but it is understood the Football Association of Ireland will make a judgement on his reign to date when they assess a World Cup qualifying campaign which draws to a close in Luxembourg on Sunday.
Thursday night’s 0-0 draw with Portugal in Dublin cemented a belief within the camp that a new-look team is making significant progress.
Duffy, who won his 50th cap on the night, said: ‘I think Stephen’s brilliant.
‘He had a tough start with the whole Covid [situation] and players dropping out, and that resulted in results not going our way.
‘But if you don’t think we’re going in a positive way, you’re writing the wrong stuff. We’re all going in the right direction. There’s a difference in the football we’re playing. Fans are excited about it.
‘For me, I think it’s obvious we love playing under him. We’re all fighting for him. Even during the hard situation there at the start, we were still fighting for him. That’s a sign that the players want to play for a manager.
‘Every single one in there and the backroom staff as well, they’re all amazing. If you went in that dressing room, everyone’s happy and that’s the way it is.’
Rep of Ireland players sensing a lack of threat also guided security to let the fan meet Ronaldo
The fan was close to tears when Ronaldo gave her his match shirt following the 0-0 draw
As Ronaldo then went to depart the field, the supporter was escorted off the field of play
Earlier in the match, Ronaldo had to dodge another supporter who had invaded the pitch
The forward endured a frustrating night in front of goal missing the best chance with a header
Despite a poor display, Portugal still got the point they needed to go to the top of the group
Such is the improvement Kenny’s team has made – their heart-breaking defeat in Portugal in September is their only reverse in nine games – that the mood after a creditable draw at the Aviva Stadium in which Cristiano Ronaldo missed one gilt-edge chance and was denied at the death by teenage keeper Gavin Bazunu was one of disappointment rather than elation.
Asked about the atmosphere in the dressing room afterwards, Duffy, 29, said: ‘It wasn’t ecstatic, the music wasn’t blaring and that shows how far we have come.’
Ireland already knew they could not qualify for the World Cup when they met up with Portugal and Serbia battling it out for top spot and automatic progression from the group.
But the point they added to their tally means they can finish third if they win in Luxembourg, who beat Azerbaijan 3-1 in Baku in their penultimate qualifier, on Sunday.
Duffy said: ‘That’s the first thing the manager said after. We all know the disappointments at the start of the group, we didn’t perform well enough but we want to finish the group as strong as we can. Going to Luxembourg to win is the aim and that’s what we want to do.
‘In the last four, five games, we have taken a step forward, the team has grown in confidence. Against one of the best teams in the world, we didn’t fear them – that’s a sign of the confidence in the way we are playing, and it’s disappointing we didn’t get the ball into the back of the net.’