World Cup: Breather for Cristiano Ronaldo
In the end, it was scarier than what Portugal would have liked but Cristiano Ronaldo, desperate for a win after his tumultuous exit from Manchester United, would take the full points in a tournament where the mighty are being brought down to earth.
Ronaldo, who put life into the Portugal attack after converting a controversially-awarded 65th-minute penalty, would have had his heart in his mouth on the bench when with seconds left in the match, Ghana’s Inaki Williams, who was inside the goal following an unsuccessful cross, snuck up behind Portugal custodian Diogo Costa, who was oblivious of the danger and dropped the ball.
Luckily for the Porto goalkeeper, apparently being watched by Manchester United scouts, Williams, after knocking the ball away, slipped over and couldn’t get a shot in. The Portuguese defenders then got into the act and saved Costa from embarrassment.
Ronaldo’s delight, and relief, was palpable.
After all, all eyes had been drawn to him, even more than normal.
Fans had poured into Stadium 974 to cheer him and the Portugal team he has led for a generation. But mostly him. He is 37 now, and suddenly unemployed, having chainsawed a burning bridge with Manchester United this month. The fight has left Ronaldo’s reputation and career exit in flux. But nothing can repair an image and spackle a legacy like the World Cup.
And when the scoreless match needed an uncorking midway through the second half, it was Ronaldo, of course, who did the honours. His penalty kick just after the hour mark sent Portugal on its way to what became — after an overflow of late goals — an uneasy 3-2 victory.
In the process, the Portugal striker became the first male player to score at five World Cups.
Ronaldo, who had wasted two good chances in the first half, tumbled under a challenge by Ghana defender Mohammed Salisu to earn a spot kick. He closed his eyes, took in a deep breath and then made World Cup history. He has now scored in every World Cup since his first in 2006 and has a record 118 international goals.
But Ghana were not to be deterred. Like Saudi Arabia the other day who came back from behind to stun Lionel Messi’s Argentina or Japan’s win over Germany on Wednesday, Ghana fought back.
Andre Ayew equalised for the African nation eight minutes later, but Joao Felix regained the lead for Portugal in the 78th and Rafael Leao added a third thanks to a Bruno Fernandes past. But again Osman Bukari reduced Ghana’s deficit in the 89th.
And in the 99th, with seconds left to play, goalkeeper Costa almost gave it all away. When it ended, there was Ronaldo, smiling and shaking hands, moving on to wherever this tournament takes him, and wherever he takes Portugal.
Written with inputs from NYTNS, AP/PTI