News Matches
Cristiano Ronaldo

Time for Ronaldo to match Messi and make his mark at the 2022 World Cup

11:00 EAT 06/12/2022
Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 2022 World Cup HIC 16:9
The Portugal captain is under pressure after a poor start to the World Cup, with some Seleccao supporters calling for him to be dropped

Not for the first time at this World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo left the field feeling frustrated. There was still 25 minutes to play in Portugal's group game against South Korea and the two sides were tied at one goal apiece. Ronaldo clearly wanted to stay on but Fernando Santos had seen enough.

"You're always in such a f*cking hurry to take me off," the struggling Seleccao skipper muttered to himself.

Then, as he trudged towards Pepe to hand over the captain's armband, hehad words with Cho Gue-Sung. The South Korea striker was also in hurry, with his side in dire need of a goal, so he told Ronaldo to get a move on. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner told Cho to shut up – "because he has no authority."

Ronaldo had none either, though. Not his usual level of authority anyway. At the Education City Stadium, the striker once again struggled to get into the game. Other than unintentionally teeing up Kim Young-Gwon for Korea's equaliser, Ronaldo contributed next-to-nothing.

He had just two shots, neither of which hit the target, and managed just 26 touches – fewer than any other player in Portugal's starting line up, including goalkeeper Diogo Costa (41).

One of the game's great protagonists was reduced to the role of a spectator. And South Korea's supporters showed Ronaldo neither respect nor mercy.

They began chanting Lionel Messi's name during the first half. They were goading the supposed GOAT, and they got away with it, too.

Ronaldo usually responds to such taunts in the best possible fashion – with goals – but he had been replaced long before Son Heung-min set up Hwang Hee-Chan to decide the game in South Korea's favour, sending the Taegeuk Warriors into the last 16 at Uruguay's expense with a deserved 2-1 win.

Portugal still progressed, of course, and as group winners too – that was the main thing. Santos wasn't satisfied, though.

"We are somewhat upset," Santos acknowledged. "We are first in the group, but we wanted to win and have a better game to increase the morale of the players. But this result serves as a warning to our team."

And for Ronaldo, too. When Santos first spoke to the press after the game, he still hadn't seen Ronaldo's foul-mouthed reaction to being substituted. However, when he addressed the media again on Monday, he admitted that he was "not at all" happy with his captain's comments.

Santos insisted that the matter had been dealt with "internally" and everyone was now focused on the last-16 clash with Switzerland. However, Ronaldo remains the talking point in Portugal after his latest strop. There has been talk of him being stripped of the captaincy, while others want him axed.

Questions had already been asked as to why he had even started against Korea, given Santos had elected to rest his most important players, with the Seleccao already through to the last 16.

However, in fairness to the Portugal coach, he was in an awkward position. Ronaldo doesn't look match sharp in Qatar, which is perfectly understandable given his lack of game time during the first half of the season at Manchester United. So, he clearly needs minutes.

However, the more he's played at this tournament, the worse he's looked. His instincts remain as keen as ever – witness his "genius" dive he produced to win a penalty against Ghana in Portugal's opening game – but both his touch and his timing have been off.

His shot conversion rate is 11 per cent (for frame of reference, Kylian Mbappe's is 24%), while he's missed as many big chances as Argentina flop Lautaro Martinez (three) and, perhaps even more surprisingly, been caught offside more times than any other player at Qatar 2022 (six).

In that context, it's hardly surprising that he was so desperate to try to claim a touch on Bruno Fernandes' cross-cum-shot against Uruguay.

Ronaldo's numbers are rotten and, as a result, he's spent most of his time remonstrating with referees and moaning about his misfortune in front of goal. Consequently, we're now in this remarkable position where some Portugal pundits and supporters are calling for the international game's all-time record goalscorer to be dropped for Tuesday's last-16 clash with Switzerland.

For example, a poll in A Bola over the weekend closed with a whopping 70 percent of the voters in favour of replacing Ronaldo with Rafael Leao.

One can understand the logic. Ronaldo's role in this team has been a topic of heated debate for some time in Portugal.Back in September, A Bola even called for "less Ronaldo, more Portugal", inferring that the Seleccao performed better when Santos put the team rather than an individual first.

Leao also arrived in Qatar in better shape and form. He and Ronaldo have one goal apiece, but while the skipper has started all three of the Seleccao's games, Leao has been restricted to just 59 minutes to date. The AC Milan attacker’s solitary strike didn't come from the penalty spot either.

There is also no quicker or more devastating dribbler in the Portugal squad. In a World Cup in which wingers are proving decisive, it seems counterproductive for Portugal to continue leaving Leao on the bench.

Still, in Ronaldo we're talking about one of the game's greatest ever finishers, and the ultimate big-game player. The knockout stage is usually where he comes alive and you can be certain that Switzerland would rather see Ronaldo relegated to the bench rather than starting up front on Monday night.

"This guy can score any second," Xherdan Shaqiri warned on the eve of the game. "He has experience and everyone knows how important he is for Portugal and for his team.

"You cannot write off Cristiano, he is one of the best players in the world together with Messi."

That is undeniably true, but we're still waiting for the real Ronaldo to arrive in Qatar. The stars have really come out to play over the past few days. Against Australia on Saturday night, Messi made a statement, rolling back the years with the best individual performance of the tournament to date. The following day, Mbappe arguably bettered it.

It's time, then, for Ronaldo's reply. And it needs to be a good one. Otherwise his final World Cup will end in frustration, and with that Messi chant ringing in his ears.