Age, controversy, and whatever else surrounds Cristiano Ronaldo, he is still near automatic at the penalty spot and Portugal is still a major threat at this World Cup.
Ronaldo converted a 65th-minute penalty and the Portuguese got two more goals from João Felix and Rafael Leão to surge past Ghana, 3-2, in the Group H opener. With South Korea and Uruguay drawing earlier in the day, the win puts Portugal top in the group after the first round of games.
Ronaldo, 37, became the first player ever to score in five World Cups with the penalty goal, converted after he went down in the box on a tackle from Mohammed Salisu. The call was borderline at best, but VAR didn’t intervene, and Ronaldo didn’t look back.
André Ayew equalized for Ghana on 73 minutes, but the momentum did not last long for the Black Stars. Bruno Fernandes played in Felix just five minutes later to take the lead back, and two minutes after that, it was another feed from Fernandes to Leão for 3-1, sealing the game for Portugal.
At 87 minutes, Ronaldo was subbed off, along with Felix and Bernardo Sliva — an acknowledgment that his work was over. A late header from Osman Bukari gave some life to the Ghanaians, but the comeback attempt fell short.
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For all the drama surrounding Ronaldo, who was at the center of a self-made media frenzy at the start of the tournament, this was a statement game for Portugal in what will almost certainly be the last World Cup for their talisman.
Following Manchester United’s termination of his contract, it is not yet clear where Ronaldo will play his club football following this World Cup. He was released by Man United this week following a bombshell interview with Piers Morgan, in which he torched manager Erik ten Hag as well as the club over his treatment and lack of playing time.
Still, he carries the charisma and ability that made him famous worldwide.