Cristiano Ronaldo scores in fifth World Cup as Portugal knocks out Ghana in thriller | World Cup 2022

A tough game turned into a thriller and as he cut through it, Cristiano Ronaldo managed to make the story his own. That was hardly a surprise in the circumstances and it was certainly what the crowd demanded, many dressed in Portuguese shirts but a large swath clearly present to see just one man.

Their loyalty was rewarded with an emphatically converted penalty that provided a moment in history. Ronaldo became the first male player to score in five different World Cups and whether you loathe the circus or love the fanatical drive and selfishness that made him work so unbearably hard at 37, it’s an achievement no one can take away from .

This was no old-fashioned Ronaldo: it was a slower and more frustrated tribute, albeit one that was Portugal’s only goal threat for three quarters of the game. At his peak, he would have sent Ghana off with a hat-trick, but instead spent the final moments off the bench in horror as Iñaki Williams, after sneaking behind dozing goalkeeper Diogo Costa to steal the ball, stumbled when a sensational equalizer beckoned.

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Ronaldo was one of those who consoled Costa, clearly shaken by his mistake, on a full-time basis. It was all a night’s work for a player who is newly unemployed.

“It was a week of closing this chapter,” Ronaldo said of the storm surrounding his departure from Manchester United that engulfed the build-up.

“It is closed and now I want to start with the good foot. We started, we won, I want to help my team.” That’s ultimately what he did, although the headlines would have looked different as two blatant misses within the first 13 minutes, a free header he planted from four yards wide, particularly amazingly, proved decisive, a goal after the half-hour mark was rightly disallowed for a push, much to the dismay of his crowd, and until he benefited from a marginal decision, both he and Portugal were off the pace.

Ronaldo just beat the otherwise excellent Mohammed Salisu on the ball in the 65th minute, but the match was close only because, as on several previous occasions, he was not quick to get it. His touch was followed by a snicker from Salisu, who was deemed by the referee Ismail Elfath to have caught Ronaldo following up. The VAR chose not to intervene and frankly there was no clear and obvious foul, even though the price was soft.

In any case, Ronaldo cared little about it, and did the rest.

Rafael Leão scores Portugal's third goal against Ghana
Rafael Leão scores Portugal’s third goal against Ghana. Photo: Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters

“This was a beautiful moment,” he said. “It was an important victory, we know that the first game in these competitions is crucial, but also the world record makes me very proud.” Those in attendance were treated to his signature celebration with loud delight, but it soon threatened to become an exercise in hubris.

Ghana had started cautiously, playing with a flat back five for most of the first half, but grew in confidence and had been the better side since the restart. They translated that confidence into the equalizer, with the lively Mohammed Kudus centering through Danilo Pereira’s legs from the left, allowing André Ayew to tap in.

However, Otto Addo’s players were erratic in possession and were penalized twice by the sort of counter-attack that Portugal had struggled to put together.

The decisive goals came within seven minutes of Ayew’s equalizer and were both scored by Bruno Fernandes, who flourished as the game grew longer. João Félix nimbly fired in the first after Rahman Baba failed to clear Fernandes’ pass: he has struggled for Atlético Madrid, but it was a timely reminder that Ronaldo may have an heir to the throne.

Or maybe he has two. Almost immediately, Ronaldo put the ball to Fernandes after a foul in Ghana. The two worked together more cleverly than recent off-field interactions might have suggested, and his former club-mate drove forward before outplaying Rafael Leão. Leão, who had only just entered, was heralded as a potential star of this winter and began to live up to the hype with a bowing low finish.

Ronaldo pulled back to a predictable ovation, as well as an equally foreseeable revulsion on his part, and it looked like a victory lap could be set up. But Ghanaian substitute Osman Bukari put it off with a well-taken header and if Williams had properly rewarded his own initiative deep in nine minutes of extra time, the evening would have produced more than one exceptional performance.

The match had become gripping from scratch and Addo felt the penalty incident had caught on, calling it “a special gift from the referee” and a “truly wrong call”. His counterpart, Fernando Santos, could bask in the consequences.

“Cristiano is a phenomenal legend like many others who have come and gone,” said Santos. “We will continue to talk about him in 50 years.” At the current pace, his ability to set the agenda will last for decades to come.

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