974 Stadium, 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 crowd and receiving the biggest applause of anyone when the starting line-ups were announced before kick-off.
He was cheered by the fans around the stadium and T-shirts with his name printed on the back could be seen all over Doha, Qatar during the build up to the match.
Its iconic “SIUU” has broken the language barrier with people from all over the world communicating with each other by mimicking the iconic celebration.
But while the 37-year-old’s popularity and star appeal remain relatively unchanged, his on-field performances of late haven’t been that of vintage Ronaldo.
It was the same story until the 65th minute of the match at stadium 974, when Ronaldo started making even more history.
While his body may lose its power, his football brain remains as sharp as ever.
With his team looking for the breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to get in front of Mohammed Salisu and hit the floor when he felt contact from behind.
There was no doubt who would take the penalty: Ronaldo picked up the ball and slotted it into the top corner of the net before racing towards his adoring cheering fans.
The goal added significance with Ronaldo becoming the first male player in history to score in five World Cups – a feat that Brazilian striker Marta became the first player to score in 2019.
It’s yet another record to add to Ronaldo’s brilliant career and a reminder to all that he can still make a difference when it really counts.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored in the previous four tournaments and now has eight World Cup goals to his name.
Despite winning the match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo was in no mood to talk.
After the Portugal and Ghana coaches spoke to reporters at the post-match press conference, it was Ronaldo’s turn to answer questions.
He was grinning as he entered the press conference, but before many reporters in the room could even start recording what he was saying, Ronaldo was out again.
He provided a very brief response in Portuguese when asked about his eventful week – his departure from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and the record he achieved at Qatar 2022.
One reporter estimated that Ronaldo was in the room just two minutes before leaving.
Until his goal, Ronaldo had lost his rhythm and was nowhere near the level expected of him.
He squandered opportunities that a younger version of himself would have buried. He waved his arms in frustration, perhaps as much at himself as at his teammates, who continue to look to the striker for inspiration and leadership.
But just as people inside the stadium had cleared it, Ronaldo delivered to ensure Ghana had to chase the game.
Ghana had equalized shortly after Ronaldo’s Andre Ayew penalty, but Portugal responded with two goals in quick succession.
João Félix re-established the lead and Rafael Leão added a third before Osman Bukari’s header offered Ghana a slim chance at a late comeback.
Ronaldo was substituted in the dying moments as his side looked to defend their lead, but he remained in the match by chasing down the touchline, demanding more from his teammates as he did during the iconic European Championship final in 2016.
He proved, once 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 trophy case, but he seems determined to change that at Qatar 2022.
The goal, record and victory are welcome news for Ronaldo in a week as Manchester United announced the two parties had mutually agreed to terminate the striker’s contract with immediate effect after he released a ‘explosive television interview.
It’s unclear where the superstar will go, but suitors have once again been reminded of her powers.
Ronaldo knows how to score and will continue to demand the best from himself and his team-mates.
His performance on Thursday proved once again that one of the greatest players in the world still cannot be written off.