Football Star Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal career is hanging in the balance following Portugal’s crushing 1-0 loss to Morocco.
Ronaldo, 37, one of the greatest ever to play the game, has never won a World Cup and likely never will following Morocco’s breathtaking and historic upset of Portugal on Saturday night in Qatar.
As Morocco’s bench stormed the field in elation, setting Al Thumama Stadium alight and triggering celebrations across Africa and the Arab world, the cameras were quick to pan to the Portuguese captain.
The contrast, by comparison, was striking.
Ronaldo briskly exited the field, took a final stoic glance at the crowd before cupping his hand over his face in utter disappointment.
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Notably, he exited the field unaccompanied by teammates, apparently sobbing, as he strode past reporters, camerapeople and FIFA staff towards the Portuguese dressing room. He was almost completely alone.
Ronaldo has yet to comment on his future.
If Qatar is indeed the end, it will be a bittersweet conclusion to a legendary career for the Portuguese player.
Há um Mundial que Portugal já ganhou: o dos adeptos! Incrível o apoio e o carinho que temos sentido de tantos portugueses (e não só!) aqui no Catar, tão longe da nossa pátria. Continuem a apoiar nos bons e nos maus momentos, tudo faremos para retribuir com vitórias! Força,🇵🇹🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/LKSTQ9W3FB
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) December 9, 2022
Ronaldo’s biggest moment at the tournament when he became the only player in history to score a goal in five separate World Cups will surely be remembered for generations.
Ronaldo holds the world record as the all-time overall leading scorer in international play with 118 international goals in 196 matches. He is also a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, the recipient of four European Golden Shoes and has seven league titles under his belt.
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In October, he scored the 700th goal of his club career for Manchester another unmatched feat for a player who launched his career with Real Madrid in 2003.
The 2022 World Cup, though, was surely a rollercoaster of ups and downs for the giant of football.
Notably, Ronaldo was benched in Portugal’s first knockout round 6-1 demolition of Switzerland the first time since 2008 after he angrily reacted to being substituted against South Korea in the side’s final group match. Reports later swirled that he had threatened to walk out on the Portuguese squad amid their World Cup run. Portugal denied those reports.
On Saturday, Ronaldo again was relegated to the bench by head coach Fernando Santos, who gave his replacement, Gonçalo Ramos, the nod after he scored a hat trick in the Swiss match.
“No regrets,” Santos said of his decision not to start the Portuguese captain for the second consecutive match.
“Cristiano is a great player, he came in when we thought it was necessary. We have no regret.”
Ronaldo was not subbed onto the pitch until the 51st minute, and as he rushed onto the field, he swapped the captain’s armband with veteran defender Pepe before turning his attention to his remaining teammates, whom he desperately urged to press on.
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His late-game cameo was met with a resounding chorus of jeers at Al Thumama Stadium, where Portuguese fans were vastly outnumbered by Moroccan supporters. As the final whistle neared, Ronaldo threw his arms up to the Portuguese fans, in a last-ditch attempt to rouse the crowd.
The Portuguese captain nearly generated a scoring chance in the 82nd minute, setting up teammate João Félix, whose shot was denied by Morocco’s goalkeeper. In the end, Ronaldo and the team were unable to repair the damage done by Morocco’s Youssef En Nesyri, whose game-winning header in the 42nd minute was enough to carry the Atlas Lions to the World Cup semi-finals.
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As a tearful Ronaldo broke for the locker rooms, his teammates, still paralysed by the Moroccan loss, lingered on the field to interact and thank Portuguese fans.
Portugal, who edged Ghana and shut-out Uruguay, before being upset 2-1 by South Korea in the group stages, have not advanced beyond the last 16 since their fourth-place finish at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Seleção das Quinas finished third in 1966. The team has never won a World Cup.
Ronaldo, who exits Qatar having never scored a knockout round goal, will now transition back to an uncertain club future.
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Days into the tournament, Ronaldo was dropped by Manchester United with “immediate effect” after he conducted an explosive interview on the eve of the World Cup, in which he sharply criticised Old Trafford manager Erik ten Hag.
Ronaldo has weathered his fair share of on- and off-the-field controversies over the past two decades, but he may now be entering the toughest stage of his career.