Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar
Watching Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half of Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ghana on Thursday could feel the frustration in the stands.
Still looking handsome, the forward waved to the crowd and received the biggest cheer of all as the starting line-up was announced before kick-off.
He was applauded by fans around the stadium and shirts with his name on the back were seen all over Doha, Qatar in the run-up to the game.
His iconic “SIUU” broke the language barrier as people from around the world communicated with each other by mimicking the iconic celebration.
But while the 37-year-old’s popularity and appeal remain relatively unchanged, his on-pitch performances of late have not been those of an old Ronaldo.
It was the same story until the 65th minute of the game at Stadion 974, from where Ronaldo began to make even more history.
Though his body may lose its strength, his footballing brain remains as sharp as ever.
As his team searched for the breakthrough, Ronaldo used his body to stand in front of Mohammed Salisu and slam the ground as he felt contact from behind.
There was never any doubt as to who would take the penalty: Ronaldo took the ball and blasted it into the top corner of the net before running to his ecstatic fans in celebration.
The goal had 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 in Ronaldo’s glittering career and a reminder to all that he can still make the difference when it really counts.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored in the previous four tournaments and now has eight World Cup goals to his tally.
Despite being named Player of the Match and making history on Thursday, Ronaldo was not in a talkative mood.
After the coaches of Portugal and Ghana 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 journalists in the room could even start recording what he was saying, Ronaldo was gone.
When asked about his eventful week – his departure from Manchester United was announced on Tuesday – and his record success at Qatar 2022, he provided a very brief reply in Portuguese.
One journalist estimated Ronaldo was in the room for just two minutes before leaving.
Up until his goal, Ronaldo had neglected the pace and wasn’t anywhere near the level we’ve come to expect from him.
He wasted opportunities that a younger version of himself would have buried. He waved his arms in frustration, perhaps more at himself than his teammates who continue to look to the forward for inspiration and guidance.
But just as the people at the stadium had written him off, Ronaldo delivered to ensure Ghana had to watch the game.
Ghana equalized shortly after Ronaldo’s penalty through Andre Ayew, but Portugal responded with two goals in quick succession.
João Félix restored the lead and Rafael Leão added a third before Osman Bukari’s header gave Ghana a small chance of a comeback late on.
Ronaldo was substituted in the final moments as his side tried to defend their lead, but he stayed in the game, stalking the touchline and demanding more from his teammates than he did during that iconic 2016 Euro final.
It showed once again that his mentality remains as competitive as ever.
Winning is all that matters for a man who has won almost everything in the game.
Like his rival Lionel Messi, the World Cup is the only trophy he does not yet have in his cabinet but he seems determined to change that in Qatar 2022.
The goal, record and victory are welcome news for Ronaldo in a week when Manchester United announced the two parties had mutually agreed to end the striker’s contract with immediate effect following an explosive TV interview.
It’s unclear where the Superstar will go next, but Freier has once again been reminded of his powers.
Ronaldo knows how to score and will continue to demand the best of himself – and his team-mates.
His performance on Thursday showed once again that one of the world’s greatest players of all time cannot be written off.