When the full-time whistle sounded, it did so not only on a World Cup quarter-final but also on a life ambition for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugalthe greatest footballer will never win a world Cup. Ronaldo is now a soon-to-be 38-year-old bachelor after his recent divorce from Manchester United. His most likely destination appears to be the Saudi league and while he may not have the confidence, or perhaps the illusion, to expect one more crack at this 41-man tournament years in the summer of 2026.
In the end, his retirement from the competition was familiar to anyone who has watched Ronaldo closely lately.
He was the first player for his side to leave the pitch after the final whistle confirmed Portugal’s 1-0 loss to Morocco.
He barely seemed to notice a pitch invader rushing towards him, so dazed he appeared by that knockout blow.
In the tunnel, cameras captured Ronaldo in tears as he sank to the extent that his masterful international record – 118 goals in 196 appearances – would not be crowned with the sport’s ultimate team award. And, deep down, he also knew his biggest rival Lionel Messi remains with a shot of glory over the next eight days.
For Ronaldo, it was another humbling experience during a humiliating World Cup campaign.
It started with the confirmation of his second career exit from Old Trafford and it ends with his reputation further diminished.
Perhaps the most remarkable stat of the night was that Ronaldo, the most prolific of goalscorers, would end his career without a single goal in the World Cup Round of 16.
For a player who his most ardent admirers claim to be the greatest footballer of his generation, it is a staggering fact.
He has made eight knockout appearances, but his two appearances at this tournament, against Swiss in the round of 16 and Morocco on Saturday came off the bench.
For Ronaldo, this mission was very different from his midweek introduction from the bench against the Swiss, but both experiences must have felt like forms of torture for a man with his individual drive.
When coach Fernando Santos benched Ronaldo on Tuesday, his replacement Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win and therefore fully justified the call. On this occasion, Ronaldo will have felt that his arrival in the 51st minute, with Portugal one goal away, was later than he would have liked. He had 39 minutes left (plus an additional eight extra) to save his nation.
Yet even when Ronaldo appeared, his impact on his team was negligible. He only made five passes, completing three. He touched the ball 10 times, including three in the Moroccan penalty area.
He only had one real goal sight, when a shot was stopped well down by Yassine Bounou. His presence seemed to encourage less patience and more desperation from his colleagues, as they turned to hopeful crosses instead of incisive forward play.
Another veteran, the 39-year-old grandpacame closest to equalizing with a late header, which scared Morocco so much that the defender Jawad El Yamik kissed his Portuguese counterpart on the head after seeing him miss.
El Yamiq is a journeyman who currently plays at Real Valladolid, who are mid-table in the Spanish La Liga. At left-back, Yahia Attiyat Allah was outstanding and he plays for Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca (although they are the current African champions). That is, in many ways, the beauty of the soccer World Cup, the great leveler, where nobody becomes somebody.
Where a player like Attiyat Allah can defeat an intergalactic name like Ronaldo. When a player like Dutchman Wout Weghorst, on loan from an English club Burnley this summer following their relegation to the second-tier championship, can lead Argentina‘s Lionel Messi to despair.
Morocco, of course, is a powerful collective, keeping clean sheets against Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal in their five matches at this World Cup. They conceded one shot on target in that game against Spain and only three here. Ronaldo is now just a finisher – and even that has been erratic this season – but here he has played in a team that has struggled to create chances.
Portugal sought excuses. Pepe blamed Argentine referee Facundo Tello.
Pepe said: “We conceded a goal we didn’t expect, but I have to say this; it’s strong, but I have to say it — it’s inadmissible that an Argentinian referee whistled this game. After what happened yesterday, with Messi.
“With everything that is being said in Argentina, and the referee comes here to take this game. I’m not saying he was conditioned… but… what did we play in the second half? Their goalkeeper was throwing himself down while time. They just said eight more minutes. We are working hard and this referee… eight minutes?
Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes seemed to find it strange that an Argentinian official still officiates while his country remains in the competition.
Fernandes said: “I don’t know if they are going to give the trophy to Argentina yet.”
At the time, the team’s press officer touched Fernandes’ arm, but the Manchester United player said: “I don’t care, I’ll say what I think and don’t care. . It’s really strange to be refereed by a professional from a country that is still in competition. This clearly swung the pitch against us.
Manager Santos was more circumspect, saying: “We could have done more and we didn’t, so we shouldn’t blame the referee. It doesn’t make sense.
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Santos may also want to avoid certain sections of social media tomorrow morning and in particular the account of Ronaldo’s other half, Georgina Rodriguez. She suggested Santos made a mistake in not selecting Ronaldo from the start and warned to never ‘underestimate the greatest player in the world’.
In his post-match press conference, however, Santos showed no remorse.
He said: “No regrets. I think they’re a team that played very well against Switzerland. Cristiano is a great player, he came when we thought it was necessary, so no, I didn’t. have no regrets.
For Santos, there is probably some relief that he can now get a few weeks without having to wonder about Ronaldo, whose present and future has dominated this tournament for Portugal so much.
His interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan made headlines ahead of the World Cup and his exit from United was confirmed just days before the tournament started.
Ronaldo had a positive moment – a penalty scored against Ghana in the first game. In doing so, he achieved the extraordinary feat of becoming the first man to score in five World Cups.
Yet this season his only other goals have come twice against FC Sheriff in the Europa League and once against Everton in the premier league.
Santos had remained a Ronaldo loyalist, but there were signs of fatigue in the pre-match press conference before facing Ghana when he leaned back in his chair and sighed when Fernandes (seated alongside him) had to answer another question about his former United side. comrade.
Ronaldo thought he had scored another when he looked to claim a goal against Uruguayonly to Fifatechnology to introduce the truth to his truth.
Then Ronaldo reacted moodily to being substituted in the second half of the group stage defeat by South Korea. He put an index finger to his lips and later explained that he was irritated by opposing striker Cho Gue-sung asking him to speed up his exit from the field: “I told him to shut up, he didn’t no authority, he doesn’t have to say anything.”
Santos said he didn’t like the behavior and for the first time a feeling developed that he could make the bold call and ditch arguably the most famous athlete on the planet.
This sentiment materialized in a lunchtime meeting before the game against Switzerland. Santos explained, “I invited him to my office. He was not happy about it, since he has always been a starter. He said to me: ‘Do you really think this is a good idea?’.
After that loss to Morocco, it’s hard to believe that Ronaldo will feel any different now.
Cristiano Ronaldo – what happens now?
(Top photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)