Cristiano Ronaldo closed his eyes, took a deep breath and made World Cup history.
The Portugal striker became the first male player to score in five World Cups with a 65th-minute penalty in a 3-2 win over Ghana on Thursday.
A few days after his contract expiredafter a candid interview, he let his football speak for the start of his arguably last World Cup.
“It was a beautiful moment,” said Ronaldo. “A world record, the only player to score in five World Cups, makes me proud.”
Turning after the ball hit the back of the net to give Portugal a 1-0 lead, a grinning Ronaldo performed his usual jump and spin in the air – the crowd roared his trademark “SI-UUU” as he pirouetted – before being mobbed by his teammates from the team.
He has scored in every World Cup since his first goal in 2006, when a penalty against Iran kicked off his streak of goals in the tournament, which now stands at eight goals in 18 matches. He has a men’s record of 118 international goals.
“I think Cristiano is a phenomenon, a legend,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “In 50 years, we’ll still be talking about him.”
His latest goalscoring record adds a sparkle to a resume that should ensure Ronaldo receives plenty of offers from new clubs after parting ways with United on Tuesday. This came after he gave an unauthorized interview to Piers Morgan criticizing the manager, owners and his teammates at the English club.
His tense preparation for the tournament had no effect on Ronaldo against Ghana, despite missing two clear chances in the first half.
“It was the week that ended that chapter (with United),” said Ronaldo. “It’s closed and now I want to start with a good foot forward. We started, we won, I want to help my team and everything else doesn’t matter.”
Ronaldo ended the match with his head in his hands in pure relief after Ghana almost scored a draw in the ninth minute of stoppage time thanks to a bit of ingenuity.
In the last action of the match, Ghana striker Inaki Williams took cover behind Diogo Costa as the Portugal goalkeeper rolled the ball across the ground and prepared to clear it. Williams dispossessed Costa and, despite the slip, managed to direct the ball towards the goal.
Portuguese defender Danilo stepped back and cleared the ball from close range as Ronaldo, who was on the bench after being substituted, watched in disbelief.
All of the goals came in a frantic final half-hour when Andre Ayew equalized eight minutes for Ghana after Ronaldo converted a penalty after collapsing under provocation from Mohammed Salisu.
Ghana’s coach Otto Addo called the punishment “a special gift from the referee”.
Joao Felix regained Portugal’s lead in the 78th minute after a through-ball from Bruno Fernandes, who then set up Rafael Leao for the third goal. Osman Bukari reduced Ghana’s deficit in the 89th game by celebrating in comical fashion by doing a “SI-UUU” Ronaldo spin.
None of the five African teams at the World Cup won their first match in the group stage. Ghana lost, as did Senegal and Cameroon, while Tunisia and Morocco drew their matches. “They didn’t win, but I could see that they could compete against an opponent,” Addo said. “I hope we can improve.”
THE WILLIAMS BROTHERS:
Inaki Williams made his first competitive appearance for Ghana the day after his brother Nico came on as a substitute for Spain in a 7-0 win over Costa Rica. Inaki Williams switched allegiances this year from Spain to Ghana, the country where his parents were born and left him decades ago when his mother was pregnant with him.
Portugal will play Uruguay on Monday. On the same day, Ghana will face South Korea.
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