A 37-year-old unemployed man set out on his latest expedition to conquer the world. Cristiano Ronaldo began his career without a club but with a goal to his credit. His first goal as a free agent made him the first player to score in five different World Cup tournaments. The milestones attest to the remarkable longevity of the Portuguese, who is a former Manchester United footballer for the second time. Every celebration for Ronaldo, who set a new record of 118 international goals, is also a vindication.
Nevertheless, Portugal's winning start was largely due to a countryman United would never consider releasing; a footballer who often performs better without Ronaldo. After Andre Ayew had equalized for Ghana, Bruno Fernandes provided two assists within three minutes, one of which came after a pass from Cristiano Ronaldo, but neither for him. Each pass was a defense-splitting pass for the flank-advancing runner who was faster. Joao Felix regained the lead for Portugal with a deft chip. Rafael Leao increased the lead with a shot into the far corner. The fact that Leao had just entered the game and Felix cost over £100 million demonstrates the depth of attacking talent available to Fernando Santos. For some, it casts doubt on Ronaldo's preeminence.
For Ronaldo, goals are an adequate response, and his eighth in World Cups was an emphatic penalty over Lawrence Ati-Zigi. However, he has yet to advance to the knockout stages. It was also a fortunate play, with Mohammed Salisu believing he had won the ball as Ronaldo fell to the ground.
Ronaldo's performance lends itself to a variety of interpretations. He committed a few egregious errors; aberrations or evidence that his abilities are waning? – After beginning the 2018 World Cup with a hat trick, he had the opportunity to do so again. If Ronaldo had scored twice in the first 12 minutes, Portugal's path to victory would have been considerably easier. Still, an uncharacteristically heavy touch cost him his first opportunity and allowed Ati-Zigi to block. Then, after the kind of prodigious leap that has become his trademark, one of his generation's greatest headers of the ball went harmlessly wide. When he first provided a confident finish, the goal was correctly disallowed because Ronaldo gained possession by pushing Alexander Djiku out of the way.
In response to the Portugal supporters' chanting of his name, Ronaldo scored within minutes. The drama of his week, he demonstrated, was not limited to Tuesday's announcement that he is leaving United. Due to his penalty, an uneventful first hour gave way to a rather frenetic and occasionally fractious conclusion.
Referee Ismail Elfath carried out his duties. It was not only Ronaldo who benefited from his generosity. Alidu Seidu, incensed at being cautioned for a foul on Felix, butted heads with the Atletico Madrid forward, thrusting himself forward in the act of wanton stupidity, but avoiding a red card. If he had left earlier, Ghana might not have given Portugal such a scare.
They exited the African Cup of Nations with a single point and a humiliating loss to Comoros; they ended up attacking and began with a degree of defensive excellence that belied their low ranking and troubled start to 2022. However, Otto Addo's appointment has brought about improvement, and Salisu has joined their cause due to his persuasive abilities. Unfortunately for the Southampton central defender, his fourth international cap may be remembered for the penalty.
After a subdued first half, Ghana's determination increased. Mohammed Kudus was the instigator, sending a 20-yard drive just wide and producing a ferocious strike that Diogo Costa stopped. His influence was demonstrated when his cutback went through Danilo's legs, allowing Ayew to equalize the score. Even when trailing 3-1, Ghana showed resiliency. Substitute Osman Bukari headed in Baba Rahman's cross, and in the final minute of stoppage time, Inaki Williams surprised Costa by sneaking up behind the goalkeeper and dispossessing him. If the forward had not slipped as he was about to shoot into an unguarded net, Ghana would have earned a point against Portugal, who were overdosing on excitement during the Santos era.
Yet, for the majority of the match, they appeared to be less than the sum of their considerable parts, as a pattern of Portuguese possession was undermined by a sluggish build-up. Ronaldo waited on the sidelines for his opportunity, missed his first two shots, and then scored three goals to match his Premier League total for the season. One of these totals could only increase.
If his next destination is undetermined, he may take a long break before returning to Manchester to retrieve his belongings. He was only the fifth footballer to participate in five World Cups; Lionel Messi was the fourth, as expected. Now each team has scored one goal in this World Cup. And with Portugal already possessing three points and Argentina having none, Ronaldo appears more likely to advance to the knockout round. Despite being unemployed, he may be busy.