Two days after leaving Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo will begin his World Cup campaign with Portugal and look to put the events of the past week and a half behind him.
Portugal face Ghana at Stadium 974 on Thursday, kicking off what could be 37-year-old Ronaldo’s final World Cup – a trophy that has so far eluded him during his illustrious career.
A successful tournament in Qatar would also allow Ronaldo to put his heartbreaking divorce behind him as United end his second spell at the club on Tuesday.
It came after the player gave an explosive interview on Talk TV where he said he felt betrayed by United and launched a scathing attack on manager Erik ten Hag.
And with the World Cup underway, Ronaldo has given assurances that his Portuguese team-mates’ ambitions will not be shaken by the timing of his bombshell interview.
“In my life, the best time is my time,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t need to think about what other people think. I talk when I want to. The players have known me well for many years and know what kind of person I am.”
Following the announcement of his departure from Manchester United, Ronaldo was suspended for two games and fined £50,000 (about $60,000) by the English Football Association (FA) for slapping a mobile phone in the hand of a spectator earlier. this year.
The incident happened after United’s 1-0 loss against Everton in April. On top of the fine and suspension – which does not apply to the World Cup but will be transferred to any new club he joins – Ronaldo was warned by the FA about his future behaviour.
Portugal are favorites against Ghana with 52 places separating the sides in the FIFA rankings.
But the power of lineage and stars seems less effective at this World Cup, a tournament where underdogs fare against stronger opponents.
Saudi Arabia came from behind to beat Argentina 2-1 while Japan did the same against Germany – clear signs that no team should be underestimated, nor should any team should have fun.
Having not reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup since 2006, Portugal have a point to prove in Qatar and come into the tournament with a lot of fire.
Despite missing Liverpool forward 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 feature on Thursday.
Against them will be a Ghanaian side short on form but not lacking in quality.
Having been kicked out of the Africa Cup of Nations after a humiliating group stage defeat against Comoros in January, the Black Stars will benefit from the “signing” of striker Inaki Williams and defender Tariq Lamptey first. to compete.
Williams switched allegiance from Spain earlier this year with England’s Lamptey.
Otto Addo – the only interim coach in the tournament – has his star player Mohammed Kudus and experienced strikers including Thomas Partey and Ayew’s sons, Jordan and Andre.
Whether Addo, who mainly works as a scout for German club Borussia Dortmund, can make Ghana click remains to be seen.
Also in Group H are Uruguay and South Korea, who play 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 of late.
The good news for South Korea is that star player Son Heung-Min has recovered from a damaged eye socket and is training for a face mask this week.
In Thursday’s other games, pre-tournament favorites Brazil and Serbia will be the final two teams to advance when they meet at the Lusail Stadium.
Five-time champions Brazil undoubtedly boast the best attacking team in the tournament, in terms of quality and depth.
Neymar Jr – like fellow talisman Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – is looking for his first World Cup trophy, and will be well supported up front by Vinicius Jr. of Real Madrid, Raphinha of Barcelona and Richarlison of Everton.
But Serbia, who topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, will not be fooled and have plenty of scoring ability in captain Dušan Tadić, Juventus striker Dušan Vlahović, and Fulham front man Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, both Vlahović and Mitrovic were nursing injuries before the tournament.
Hoping to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time, Serbia may have to battle Switzerland and Cameroon, who face each other on Thursday, to reach the round of 16 – barring any bad results. for Brazil.
But as this World Cup has shown so far, don’t rule out what will happen.
Switzerland vs Cameroon – 5am Eastern time
Uruguay vs South Korea – 8am ET
Portugal vs Ghana – 11am ET
Brazil vs Serbia – 2pm ET
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC