A walk that took a second but felt like an eternity. Tears flowed from his eyes and a hand masked his face. Everything unraveled for Cristiano Ronaldo, as he was denied a chance to fight for the trophy at Qatar 2022, after Portugal delivered a meagre performance to close the tournament in disappointing fashion. And with it, Ronaldo’s last chance to complete his legacy as one of the greatest of all time with a FIFA World Cup trophy under his name.
It was an exit that he will probably not forget, an exit that saw him relegated to the bench for the knockout phase of Qatar 2022, as the 37-year-old really showed his age. Ronaldo’s legacy will surely be always debated, yet on the biggest of stages, the matter of fact is that he failed to score a single goal in the knockout phases of the FIFA World Cup in 570 minutes.
He took 27 shots, he tried his best, but ultimately… well, he failed. That is the word, that is what will remain etched in history, this is how he always be remembered at the FIFA World Cup. Hard to take for his fans, hard to take for a player of his ego, but Cristiano Ronaldo bows out with a zero under the column of goals scored when it mattered the most for Portugal.
Qatar 2022 was always going to be the last chance for CR7 to deliver something for Portugal and write his name into the history of the FIFA World Cup as a winner. Already 37 years old, the striker, the record holder for the number of goals scored for Portugal, with 118 goals in 196 matches, needed to prove his mettle once again, in his fifth edition of the FIFA World Cup.
The tournament was already a whirlwind, after he delivered a 80-minute interview for journalist Piers Morgan in which he lambasted his club team, Manchester United, for the lack of professionalism shown by the side. Promptly, United and Ronaldo negotiated a termination of contract, just before the start of Qatar 2022.
It proved that Ronaldo’s mind was not necessarily close to the team, close to the task at hand, but already thinking about the future at club level, with his situation at Manchester United getting increasingly toxic.
He started the first three matches – in the group phase at Qatar 2022 – but he only scored once – as his magic, which enthralled fans and kept them on the edge of their seats looked to be gone. Ronaldo looked slow, a step behind everybody and his only goal at Qatar 2022 came after a penalty against Ghana.
While he became the first-ever player to score in five different editions of the FIFA World Cup, he will likely finish his career with only eight goals scored in the competition, enough momentarily for the 26th place in the all-time goal scorer list. Ronaldo is also not the best Portugal scorer in history, with Eusebio boasting a nine-goal tally in the standings.
Could have Ronaldo done more to emulate the performance at the UEFA EURO 2016, when he led Portugal to their first-ever major international title?
Some say yes. Others no. In a poll made by Portuguese sports newspaper “O Jogo” questioning whether Ronaldo should start the match against Switzerland in the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022, 70% of the answers were a resounding “no”.
It looked impossible, incredible, hard to believe, but even Portuguese fans, who labeled Ronaldo as godlike in the previous years, saw him as a liability. And in the knockout games against Switzerland and Morocco, coach Fernando Santos kept Ronaldo on the bench.
“No regrets,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said explaining his decision. “Cristiano is a great player, he came in when we thought it was necessary. We have no regret.”
Santos will probably pay the loss against Morocco with his position, but for Ronaldo, the path to the starting lineup for Portugal will likely be difficult, irrespective of who the new coach will be.
He is without a club, albeit rumours have it that he will sign with Saudi team Al-Nassr. He quickly played down those rumours, but few teams can afford to sign him in the near future, especially after the last months, where he created discord at his own whims.
Whether he will continue for Portugal or not, the dream of winning the FIFA World Cup looks finished for Ronaldo, one of the all-time greats, who delivered so many happy memories for Portugal. Yet he will also be remembered for his tears, as he exited the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, after another painful loss.
A harrowing scene, but one that could serve as a wake-up call for a player that thought he was better than anyone and could not deliver when it mattered the most.