DOHA: Another game, another personal milestone. For all the turmoil that has surrounded Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of what is likely to be his final World Cup, the Portugal great is still making his mark.
On Thursday, he became the first man to score in five World Cups.
Earlier this season, he registered the 700th club goal of his career.
Not bad for a 37-year-old, who doesn’t know where he will be playing beyond Qatar after having his Manchester United contract terminated in the wake of his incendiary interview criticizing manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners.
A win against Uruguay on Monday would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare after their opening 3-2 win against Ghana.
“This is just the beginning,” Ronaldo said in an Instagram post, adding that “there are no impossibilities.”
But if soccer’s ultimate numbers man is to achieve his ambition of lifting the one major trophy that eludes him, he can’t do it by himself.
That much was clear against Ghana, when Portugal also needed goals from Joao Félix and Rafael Leao to hold on for victory.
Felix is the likeliest heir to Ronaldo’s throne as Portugal’s inspiration-in-chief — and has even been linked with a potential move to United.
If Qatar is Ronaldo’s last World Cup dance, the moves aren’t quite as fluid as they once were.
His goal against Ghana came from the penalty spot, rather than a moment of the type of individual brilliance on which his career has been built.
That being said, FIFA Technical Study Group member Sunday Olizeh still described as “total genius” his ability to win a disputed foul from Mohammed Salisu that led to it — and Ghana coach Otto Addo insisted shouldn’t have been awarded.
Ronaldo’s celebrations suggested he doesn’t care where the goals come from, so long as they keep on coming. But Portugal can’t solely rely on such moments — and amid the noise that surrounds its most celebrated player, it can be forgotten how much talent coach Fernando Santos has at his disposal.
Not least Atletico Madrid forward Felix, United midfielder Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City.
“We have players that are more visible than others and they need to deal with that, with the high priority and pressure,” Santos said at a news conference Sunday before the game at the Lusail Stadium. “They express themselves in one particular way. There are players who are more extroverted, those more introverted, the most important thing is they play as a group, play together as one team.”
Portugal will be without Danilo Pereira, who suffered a rib injury in training.
Pepe, the 39-year-old center back, could replace him.
Uruguay drew 0-0 with South Korea in their first game of the tournament.
Like Portugal, Uruguay are blending the old and the new. Ronaldo’s long-time rival from their time at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, Luis Suarez, is in an attack that also features the country’s new generation of talent in Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellistri.
At 35, Suarez is no longer the force he once was and he was substituted just after an hour against South Korea. Another 35-year-old in Edinson Cavani replaced him, but Uruguay still couldn’t find a goal.
“I said that we had not been able to perform at our best,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said. “However, we had six chances to score against their one in the first half — we hit South Korea’s post, we had six, and two that hit the post.”
Ghana exposed vulnerabilities in Portugal’s defense — but Uruguay will need to be much more clinical if the South American team is to capitalize on Monday.