As in the Estádio Algarve, Cristiano Ronaldo saved the best until last.
This time it wasn’t the winning goal at the Aviva Stadium, although he was still trying to grab it in the dying seconds with a near post shot.
Having been booed throughout by the home supporters, Ronaldo raised a cheer when he handed his Portugal jersey to a young Irish fan who had raced onto the pitch at the final whistle and was nabbed by security.
But it was one of those rare nights for the Manchester United superstar, who was sold a dummy by Shane Duffy and twice denied by Seamus Coleman as Ireland held firm.
To all watching, it seemed that his box-office moment had arrived in the 67th minute. Bruno Fernandes fed André Silva, and he delivered a pinpoint cross from the right.
The home crowd stopped breathing as one when Ronaldo headed down into the turf, directing his effort beyond Gavin Bazunu’s dive, the ball spinning towards the corner of the net.
A goal. Or at least, for a nanosecond, so everyone believed. Ronaldo himself believed it.
Then came the realisation that, somehow, he hadn’t extended his world record to 116 senior international goals in his 183rd appearance.
He had the wherewithal, despite his shock, to dodge the eejit who ran on and made a beeline for him moments later.
Ronaldo sent a short curling wide 12 minutes from time and, in the dying seconds, he was still trying to force the issue.
At least he has the consolation of knowing that a draw at home to Serbia will send Portugal to the World Cup – although the loss of the red-carded Pepe doesn’t help their cause.
After his late, late show in Faro, Ireland’s defence were determined to shut out the elder of the two CR7s gracing the Lansdowne Road pitch.
That 2-1 defeat in September wounded an Ireland team on the cusp of a first prestige victory under Stephen Kenny.
But it felt like a corner had been turned. Results since, up to and including this one, back that up.
This time, Ronaldo was more in the mood to play as he returned to Dublin for the first time since his Real Madrid debut 11 years ago in a friendly with Shamrock Rovers.
He was warmly welcomed to the city by the Hoops’ enforcer Pat Flynn, who instantly dumped him into the turf.
Tonight, Ronaldo looked in the mood to silence the home fans but the Ireland defence singled him out for special attention. Coleman was in the right place twice to stop him.
In the eighth minute, the Everton defender kept calm to slide in as Ronaldo weaved in and out. Nine minutes later, he dove in the way of a fierce Ronaldo shot. Coleman had his number all night.
Duffy felt aggrieved that Ronaldo jumped into him but was penalised for manhandling the Portuguese.
Then the Brighton man got his revenge with that sweet 23rd minute feint that embarrassed his illustrious opponent.
When Ronaldo let fly with an early second half free-kick it was Duffy who stood firm – his legs momentarily buckling at taking the force of a Ronaldo free-kick right on the forehead.
Then came Ronaldo’s headed chance but it was Ireland who finished the stronger. What might have been, had earlier performances been of this standard.
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