Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar
If you saw Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half of Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ghana on Thursday, you could feel the frustration from the stands.
Still looking good, the striker waved to the crowd and received the biggest cheers of all when the starting line-ups were announced for kick-off.
He was cheered by fans all over the stadium and shirts with his name on the back were seen all over Doha, Qatar leading up to the match.
His iconic “SIUU” broke 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 appeal remain relatively unchanged, his performance on the pitch has been nothing like Ronaldo’s lately.
It was the same story until the 65th minute of the game at Stadium 974, when Ronaldo started making even more history.
When his body is losing its strength, his soccer brain remains sharp as ever.
As his team searched for the breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to get in front of Mohammed Salisu and hit the ground when he felt contact from behind.
It was never in doubt who would take the penalty: Ronaldo picked up the ball and fired it into the top corner of the net before running to his adoring fans to celebrate.
The goal had taken on added significance as Ronaldo became the first male player in history to score in five World Cups – a feat that Brazilian striker Marta in 2019 became the first player to achieve.
It’s another record to add to Ronaldo’s brilliant career and a reminder to everyone that he can still make a difference when it really matters.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner scored in the previous four tournaments and now has eight World Cup goals to his name.
Despite becoming player of the match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo was not in a talkative mood.
After the coaches of Portugal and Ghana spoke to reporters at the post-match media conference, it was Ronaldo’s turn to answer questions.
He smiled as he walked into the media conference, but before many journalists in the room could even start recording what he was saying, Ronaldo was already gone.
He gave a very curt answer in Portuguese when asked about his eventful week – his departure from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and record-breaking performance in Qatar 2022.
A journalist estimated that Ronaldo was only in the room for two minutes before leaving.
Until his goal, Ronaldo had lacked the pace and was nowhere near the level we have come to expect from him.
He squandered opportunities that a younger version of himself would have buried. He waved his arms in frustration, perhaps more at himself than at his teammates, who still look to the striker for inspiration and leadership.
But just as people in the stadium had written him off, Ronaldo performed to ensure Ghana had to chase the match.
Ghana had equalized through Andre Ayew shortly after Ronaldo’s penalty, but Portugal answered with two in quick succession.
João Félix restored the lead and Rafael Leão added a third before Osman Bukari’s header gave Ghana a slim chance of a comeback.
Ronaldo was substituted at the last minute as his side tried to defend the lead, but he stayed in the game, sneaking up the sidelines and demanding more from his team-mates, as he did in that iconic 2016 European Championship final.
It showed 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 cupboard, but he seems determined to change that in Qatar 2022.
The goal, record and win are welcome news for Ronaldo in a week when Manchester United announced that the two sides had mutually agreed to terminate the striker’s contract with immediate effect after he gave an explosive TV interview.
It’s unclear where the superstar will go, but suitors have once again been reminded of his powers.
Ronaldo knows how to score and will continue to demand the most from himself – and his teammates.
His performance on Thursday showed once again that you can’t write off one of the world’s greatest players ever.