Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar
Watching Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half of Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ghana on Thursday, you could feel the frustration from the stands.
The striker still looked the part, waving to the crowds and receiving the biggest cheer of anyone when the starting lineups were announced before kickoff.
He was applauded by fans around the stadium and shirts with his name emblazoned on the back could be seen all over Doha, Qatar, in the buildup to the match.
His iconic “SIUU” broke the language barrier with people from all over the world communicating to each other by mimicking the iconic celebration.
But while the 37-year-old’s popularity and star appeal remain relatively unchanged, his performances on the pitch of late haven’t been vintage Ronaldo.
It was the same story up until the 65th minute of the match at Stadium 974, at which point Ronaldo started making yet more history.
If his body might be losing its power, his footballing brain remains as sharp as ever.
With his team searching for the breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to get in front of Mohammed Salisu and hit the floor when he felt contact from behind.
It was never in doubt who would take the penalty: Ronaldo picked up the ball and rifled it into the top corner of the net before running to his adoring fans in celebration.
The goal had added significance with Ronaldo becoming the first male player in history to score at five World Cups – a feat Brazilian striker Marta became the first player to achieve back in 2019.
It’s yet another record to add to Ronaldo’s glittering career and a reminder to everyone that he can still make the difference when it really matters.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored in the previous four tournaments and now has eight World Cup goals to his name.
Fleeting press conference
Despite winning player of the match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo wasn’t in a talkative mood.
After the coaches of Portugal and Ghana spoke to reporters in the post-match media conference, it was Ronaldo’s turn to answer questions.
He was smiling when he walked into the media conference, but before many journalists in the room could even start recording what he was saying, Ronaldo was off again.
He delivered a very short answer in Portuguese when asked about his eventful week – his departure from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and record-breaking achievement at Qatar 2022.
One journalist estimated that Ronaldo was in the room for just two minutes before leaving.
Up until his goal, Ronaldo had looked off the pace and wasn’t anywhere near the level we’ve come to expect from him.
He wasted opportunities that a younger version of himself would have buried. He waved his arms in frustration, perhaps as much at himself than at his teammates, who continue to look to the striker for inspiration and leadership.
But just when people inside the stadium had written him off, Ronaldo delivered to ensure Ghana had to chase the game.
Ghana had equalized shortly after Ronaldo’s penalty through Andre Ayew, but Portugal replied with two in quick succession.
João Félix reestablished the lead and Rafael Leão added a third before Osman Bukari’s header gave Ghana a small chance of a comeback late on.
Ronaldo was substituted in the final moments as his side looked to defend its lead, but he remained in the game by stalking the touchline, demanding more from his teammates as he did during that iconic European Championship final in 2016.
It showed, yet again, that his mentality remains as competitive as ever.
Winning is all that matters to a man who has won almost everything in the game.
Like his rival Lionel Messi, the World Cup is the only trophy not yet in his cabinet, but he looks determined to change that at Qatar 2022.
The goal, the record and the win are welcome news for Ronaldo in a week in which Manchester United announced that the two parties had mutually agreed to end the forward’s contract with immediate effect after he gave an explosive TV interview.
It’s unclear where the superstar will go next but suitors have once again been reminded of his powers.
Ronaldo knows how to score and will keep demanding the most from himself – and his teammates.
His performance on Thursday showed again that you can’t yet write off one of the world’s ever greatest players.