Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar
Watching Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half of Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ghana on Thursday, you could feel the frustration from the stands.
The striker still looked on, waved to the crowd and received the biggest cheer of anyone when the starting line-ups were announced before kick-off.
He was applauded by fans around the stadium and shirts with his name emblazoned on the back could be seen all over Doha, Qatar, in the build-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 star appeal remain relatively unchanged, his performances on the pitch of late have not been vintage Ronaldo.
It was the same story until the 65th minute of the match at Stadium 974, when Ronaldo started making even more history.
If his body may be losing its strength, his football mind remains as sharp as ever.
As his team looked for the breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to get in front of Mohammed Salisu and hit the floor when he felt contact from behind.
There was never any doubt who would take the penalty: Ronaldo picked up the ball and volleyed it into the top corner of the net before running to his adoring fans in celebration.
The goal had added significance as Ronaldo became the first male player in history to score at five World Cups – a feat that Brazilian forward Marta became the first player to achieve back in 2019.
It’s another record to add to Ronaldo’s glittering career and a reminder to everyone that he can still make a difference when it really matters.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored in the previous four tournaments and now has eight World Cup goals to his name.
Despite winning player of the match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo was in no chatty 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 smiled as he entered the media conference, but before many reporters in the room could even begin to record what he said, Ronaldo was off again.
He delivered a very brief answer in Portuguese when asked about his eventful week – his departure from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and record-breaking performance at Qatar 2022.
One journalist estimated that Ronaldo was in the room for just two minutes before leaving.
Until his goal, Ronaldo had looked off 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 as much at himself as at his teammates, who continue to look to the forward for inspiration and leadership.
But just when people inside the stadium had written him off, Ronaldo delivered to ensure Ghana had to chase the game.
Ghana had equalized shortly after Ronaldo’s penalty through Andre Ayew, but Portugal responded with two in quick succession.
João Félix restored the lead and Rafael Leão added a third before Osman Bukari’s header gave Ghana little chance of a comeback late on.
Ronaldo was substituted in the final moments as his side looked set to defend their lead, but he stayed in the game by stalking the touchline and demanding more from his teammates, as he did during the iconic Euro 2016 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 cabinet, but he looks determined to change that at Qatar 2022.
The goal, the record and the win are welcome news for Ronaldo in a week in which Manchester United announced that the two parties had mutually agreed to terminate the forward’s contract with immediate effect after he gave an explosive television interview.
It’s unclear where the superstar will go next, 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 again that one cannot yet write off one of the world’s greatest ever players.