Dubai: His superhuman strengths on the pitch have been well documented during a glittering career in which he has plundered in the most incredible goals. But when all’s said and done, Cristiano Ronaldo is just a mere mortal like us. And after a particularly tough week in which he was unceremoniously dumped by Manchester United, the Portuguese superstar clearly looked very emotional during the anthems before the kick off against Ghana.
There were tears in his eyes while he sang. It’s been a big few days. This is his last World Cup. This means everything to him. Yes, it’s all his own fault. There was no need for that explosive interview where he attacked his now former club and manager Erik ten Hag. But the outcome clearly had taken its toll.
We all like to believe Ronaldo is a machine. Or at the very least the perfect human specimen. We think nothing should phase the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. But under that tough exterior lies a man with the same foibles as us who has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons for the past few months.
You could see he was keen to put his troubles to one side and give his all for his country against the Africans in his fifth World Cup. But even though Ghana are rated 61 in the rankings by FIFA, they are no pushovers. They have been the most consistently successful African side at the World Cup this century, twice reaching the knockout stages and once the quarter-final. And with plenty of English Premier League-based interest in the side what with former West Ham front man Andre Ayew, Leicester’s Daniel Amartey, Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu, and Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, they made it hard for Portugal to find any rhythm.
In the early stages, the five-time Champions League winner Ronaldo was anonymous. But then, the now free agent, could have broken the deadlock but his touch and lightning quick pace seemed to desert him as he failed to beat the keeper. Potential suitors will have noticed. Can he still do it at the very top level? I doubt it. Time catches up with us all.
In the second half he was presented with a glimpse of goal but following slight hesitation inside the box his attempt was blocked. A few years ago, he would have buried that.
Kudus, the Ajax wide man, went on a great run but his left foot shot was inches wide of the post. It would have given the Black Stars a famous lead. But then Portugal were awarded a soft penalty and Ronaldo tucked it away to become the first player to score in five different World Cups. It is an incredible record but his overall performance left much to be desired. He was hardly in the game and never looked like scoring from open play. Scoring a penalty is hardly silencing the critics. He’s a shadow of the player he used to be.
Minutes later Ghana deservedly drew level through Ayew following more good work from Kudus. But then back came Portugal with a fine finish from Felix before Leao added a third. Ghana pulled another back, and until the final whistle eventually blew they frightened Portugal. Ghana had concentrated and focused so well but ultimately fell short.
Ronaldo’s list of achievements and records is endless but one thing is missing from that astonishing CV – a World Cup winners’ medal. There was a time where he could easily win a match all by himself. But on this latest evidence, he will need all the help he can get from his teammates, and the opposition, if he is to lift the Jules Rimet trophy.