Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar
Watching Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half of Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ghana on Thursday, you might feel lethargic from the stands.
The striker is still looking the part, waving to the fans and receiving the biggest cheer of anyone when the starting line-up was announced before kick-off.
He was applauded by fans around the stadium and T-shirts with his name on the back were seen all over Doha, Qatar, while preparing for the match.
The iconic “SIUU” broke the language barrier with people from all over the world connecting with each other by simulating the iconic ceremony.
But while the 37-year-old’s popularity and star appeal has been relatively unchanged, his performance on the pitch lately has been nothing like Ronaldo’s.
It was the same story until the 65th minute of the match at Stade 974, where Ronaldo began to make more history.
If his body was losing strength, his spherical brain would remain as sharp as ever.
With his team looking for a breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to get up in front of Mohamed Salisu and hit the ground when he felt contact from behind.
There was no doubt who would take the penalty: Ronaldo picked up the ball and volleyed it into the top corner of the net before running in front of the cheering home crowd.
The goal added significance as Ronaldo became the first male player in history to score in five World Cups – a feat Brazilian striker Marta became the first player to achieve in 2019.
It’s another record to add to Ronaldo’s stellar career and a reminder to everyone that he can still make the difference when it really matters.
The Ballon d’Or winner has scored five times in the previous four tournaments and now has eight World Cup goals to his name.
Despite winning man of the match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo was not in a talkative mood.
After the Portugal and Ghana coaches spoke to reporters at the post-match media conference, it was Ronaldo’s turn to answer questions.
He was smiling as he entered the media conference, but before the many journalists in the room could start recording what he was saying, Ronaldo stopped again.
He gave a very short answer in Portuguese when asked about his eventful week – his departure from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and his record-breaking achievement at Qatar 2022.
One journalist estimated that Ronaldo was only in the room for two minutes before leaving.
Until his goal, Ronaldo seemed off the pace and nowhere near as high as we expected him to be.
He wasted opportunities that a younger version of himself could have buried. He waved his arms in disappointment, perhaps equally at his team-mates, who continue to look to the striker for inspiration and leadership.
But just as the players inside the stadium had written off, Ronaldo delivered his hand to ensure Ghana had to chase the match.
Ghana equalized shortly after with Ronaldo’s penalty through Andre Ayew, but Portugal responded with two goals in quick succession.
Joao Felix restored the lead and Rafael Leao added a third before Ousmane Bockarie’s header gave Ghana little chance of a comeback late on.
Ronaldo was substituted in the last moments as his team sought to defend its lead, but he remained in the game by chasing the touchline, demanding more from his teammates as he did during the famous European Championship final in 2016.
Showing, once again, that his mentality is still as competitive as ever.
Winning is all that matters to the guy who won almost everything in the game.
Like his rival Lionel Messi, the World Cup is the only trophy he has yet to put into his cabinet, but he seems determined to change that in Qatar 2022.
A goal, a record and a win is welcome news for Ronaldo in a week when Manchester United announced that the parties had mutually agreed to terminate the striker’s contract immediately after he gave an explosive TV interview.
It’s not clear where the star will go next, but the suitors have once again been reminded of his powers.
Ronaldo knows how to score and will continue to demand the most from himself – and from his teammates.
His performance on Thursday showed once again that you can’t dismiss one of the world’s greatest players ever.