Two days after his turbulent departure from Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo will begin his World Cup campaign with Portugal and look to leave behind the events of a week and a half ago.
Portugal face Ghana at the 974 Stadium on Thursday, kicking off what will likely be 37-year-old Ronaldo’s final World Cup – a trophy that has so far eluded him throughout his illustrious career. me.
A successful tournament in Qatar will also allow Ronaldo to continue his messy divorce from United following the end of his second stint at the club on Tuesday.
It comes after the striker gave an explosive interview with Talk TV in which he said he felt betrayed by United and launched a scathing attack on coach Erik ten Hag. .
And as the World Cup got underway, Ronaldo made sure his Portuguese teammates’ focus wouldn’t be shaken by the timing of his sensational interview.
“In my life, the best time has always been my moment,” he told reporters Monday. “I don’t have to think about what other people think. I speak when I want. The players know me very well for many years and know what kind of person I am.”
After announcing his departure from Manchester United, Ronaldo was given a two-match suspension and fined £50,000 (about $60,000) by the Football Association (FA) for throwing a mobile phone at a spectator earlier this year.
The incident happened after United’s 0-1 loss to April at Everton. In addition to the fine and suspension – which does not apply at the World Cup but will be transferred to any new club he joins – Ronaldo has been warned by the FA about his behavior in the future.
Portugal is rated higher than Ghana with 52 places difference between the two sides on the FIFA rankings.
But pedigree and star power don’t seem to count much at this World Cup, a tournament where weaker teams have performed well against stronger opponents.
Saudi Arabia came back to beat Argentina 2-1 while Japan did the same against Germany – clear signs that any team should not be underestimated, nor should it be complacent. any team.
Not reaching the quarterfinals of a World Cup since 2006, Portugal have points to prove in Qatar and came into the tournament with considerable firepower.
Despite the lack of Liverpool striker Diogo Jota through injury, the likes of Ronaldo, his former United team-mate Bruno Fernandes, and Manchester City stars João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva are all likely to contribute. face on Thursday.
Against them will be a Ghanaian team lacking form but not lacking in quality.
Knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations following a humiliating group stage defeat to Comoros in January, the Black Stars will benefit from the signings of striker Inaki Williams and right-back Tariq Lamptey ahead of the tournament. fight.
Williams switched allegiance from Spain earlier this year and Lamptey from England.
Otto Addo – the only part-time coach at the league – also has star midfielder Mohammed Kudus on hand and experienced campaigners including Thomas Partey and the Ayew brothers, Jordan and Andre.
Whether Addo, who mainly works as a scout for German side Borussia Dortmund, can get Ghana on the list remains to be seen.
Also in Group H are Uruguay and South Korea, who play against each other at the Education City Stadium on Thursday.
Uruguay are the favorites and will benefit from the experience of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Liverpool forward Darwin Núñez will also feature in attack, while midfielders Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde have been in excellent form recently.
The good news for South Korea is that star player Son Heung-Min has recovered from an eye socket injury and has been training with a protective mask this week.
In other matches on Thursday, pre-tournament favorites Brazil and Serbia will be the last two to start the tournament when they meet at Lusail Stadium.
The five-time champion Brazil has arguably the best attacking squad in the tournament, both in terms of quality and depth.
Neymar Jr – like his compatriots Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – is looking for his first World Cup trophy, and he will be supported from the start alongside Vinicius Jr. of Real Madrid, Raphinha of Barcelona and Richarlison of Everton.
But Serbia, which topped the qualifying group against Portugal, will be no match and have plenty of potential to score like captain Dušan Tadić, Juventus forward Dušan Vlahović and Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, Vlahović and Mitrovic are both recovering from injuries before the tournament.
In hopes of reaching the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time, Serbia will likely have to face Switzerland and Cameroon, who will face each other on Thursday, to reach the round of 16 – ruled out any disastrous outcome for Brazil.
But as this World Cup has demonstrated so far, no situation has been ruled out.
Switzerland vs Cameroon – 5am Eastern Time
Uruguay vs South Korea – 8am ET
Portugal vs Ghana – 11am ET
Brazil vs Serbia – 2pm ET
United States: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC