974 Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Watching Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half of Portugal’s World Cup game against Ghana on Thursday, you could feel the frustration from the stands.
The forward still looked the part, waving to the crowd and getting the biggest cheer of anyone as the starting line-up was announced before kick-off.
Fans around the stadium cheered and shirts with his name emblazoned on the back could be seen all over Doha, Qatar for the match.
His iconic “SIUU” broke the language barrier as people from all over the world communicated with each other imitating the iconic celebration.
But while the 37-year-old’s popularity and star appeal remain relatively unchanged, his performances of late have not been Ronaldo-era.
It was the same story until the 65th minute of the match at the 974 Stadium, when Ronaldo began to make more history.
If his body loses strength, his football brain remains as sharp as ever.
With his team looking for a breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to get in front of Mohammed Salisu and hit the ground when he felt contact from behind.
There was never any doubt as to who would take the penalty: Ronaldo picked up the ball and slotted it into the top corner of the net before running towards his adoring fans in celebration.
The goal was all the more important as Ronaldo became the first male player in history to score in five World Cups; Brazilian striker Marta was the first player to achieve the feat 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 man of the match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo was in no mood to talk.
After the Portuguese and Ghanaian coaches spoke to reporters in the post-match press conference, it was Ronaldo’s turn to answer questions.
He was all smiles as he entered the media, but before the many journalists in the room could start recording what he was saying, Ronaldo blacked out again.
He gave a very brief answer in Portuguese when asked about his eventful week – his exit from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and his record-breaking achievement in Qatar 2022.
A journalist estimated that Ronaldo was in the room for two minutes before leaving.
Until his goal, Ronaldo didn’t look off the pace and was nowhere near the level we expect from him.
He wasted opportunities that a younger version of himself would have buried. He flailed his arms in frustration, perhaps more at himself than at his teammates, who continue to look to the forward for inspiration and leadership.
But when the crowd inside the stadium took him down, Ronaldo delivered to ensure Ghana were to chase the game.
Ghana equalized after Ronaldo’s penalty through Andre Ayew, but Portugal responded twice in quick succession.
João Félix restored the lead and Rafael Leão added a third before Osman Bukari’s header gave Ghana a slim chance to come back late on.
Ronaldo was substituted in the closing moments as his team looked to defend their lead, but he continued to play on the touchline, demanding more from his teammates as he did in that iconic 2016 European Championship final.
He 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 is determined to change that in Qatar 2022.
The goal, the record and the win are welcome news for Ronaldo, a week after Manchester United announced that both sides had agreed to terminate the forward’s contract with immediate effect, following an explosive television interview.
It’s unclear where the superstar will go next, but the naysayers have been reminded once again 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 you still can’t take down one of the greatest players in the world.