On Thursday night, Cristiano Ronaldo put his name in the history books. His goal against Ghana — a penalty scored just after the hour mark — made him the first player ever to score at five separate World Cups.
The feat is a testament to his enduring talent, and to the length of his reign at the top of the men’s game. No wonder he still vies with Lionel Messi to be world football’s official GOAT.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is a phenomenon”, said Fernando Santos, Portugal’s head coach, after the game. “In 50 years’ time, we will continue to speak about him.”
Yet the 37-year-old forward finds himself looking for work. Earlier this week, his contract with Manchester United was torn up with immediate effect — the fallout from an explosive interview he gave to Piers Morgan.
After Thursday’s match, he was asked about his future. He swerved. The only thing on his mind now is this Portugal team and the World Cup. “The rest, it doesn’t matter,” he said, before leaving the post-match press conference.
Earlier in the day, Saudi Arabia’s sport minister had helped set tongues wagging. In an interview with the BBC, he was asked if Ronaldo might be lured by the Saudi league. After all, the Gulf kingdom has been making an aggressive push into global sport.
“Anything is possible”, said Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal. “I would love to see Cristiano Ronaldo play in the Saudi league.”
Messi already has a deal to help promote tourism in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps a package trip to watch Ronaldo will be in the next holiday brochure.
Friday’s one to watch: Qatar’s last chance at redemption
Qatar’s football ambitions have been built at great expense at the Aspire Academy, a state of the art facility in Doha with coaches, sports scientists and other experts from around world.
The project to build a competitive team — more than a decade in the making — faced its biggest test on the opening day of the tournament. It was an abject failure, with the Qatar national team losing 2-0 to Ecuador.
Even without injured talisman Sadio Mané, Senegal should be an even tougher opponent on Friday afternoon. But for Qatar this is their last chance. A loss here would guarantee an early exit, and push the team’s name into the running for the tournament’s worst side. Qatar’s long-term football ambitions might then be up for discussion.
Wales vs Iran, 10am UK time/1pm Doha time
Qatar vs Senegal, 1pm UK time/4pm Doha time
Netherlands vs Ecuador, 4pm UK time/7pm Doha time
England vs USA, 7pm UK time/10pm Doha time
Thursday’s highlight: Round one shuffles pack of potential champions
We’ve now seen every team play their first game in Qatar, with a few shocks along the way. The list of favourites looks slightly different as a result.
Brazil remain the most backed side to lift the World Cup (perhaps thanks to Richarlison’s wonder-volley against Serbia). But behind them now sit high-scoring Spain and England, both at 7/1. Narrowly a bit further back are holders France, who notched up their own impressive 4-1 win over Australia.
Meanwhile Argentina’s star has fallen, at least a bit. They are now 19/2 to become world champions for the first time since 1986. But they’ll have to get going pretty quickly: a loss against Mexico at the weekend would prove fatal to those ambitions.
As for Germany, they are now a distant 29/1 to win the tournament after their late defeat at the hands of Japan. Having been bounced out in the first round in 2018, a second early exit in a row now looms.
Switzerland 1 Cameroon 0
Uruguay 0 South Korea 0
Portugal 3 Ghana 2
Brazil 2 Serbia 0
Source: Financial Times