Can Cristiano Ronaldo Lead Portugal to a First-Ever World Cup in His Likely Final Tournament?

We are just three weeks away from the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and there are plenty of mouth-watering storylines and exciting clashes that look set to take place across the month-long tournament in Qatar. This is the first-ever tournament to take place in Asia and the first to take place in November-December as opposed to the summer months, and it will also be the final tournament to feature 32 teams with the 2026 edition increasing to 48, with Brazil, France and Argentina being ranked among the favorites in an array of World Cup betting tips, followed by England, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Belgium.


This tournament will likely see three players join the elite company of Antonio Carbajal, Rafael Marquez and Lothar Matthaus and become the only players to play in five World Cups: Andres Guardado, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Sergio Ramos has an outside chance of doing the same after being included in Luis Enrique’s 55-man preliminary shortlist, but he has not played for Spain since March 2021 and looks set to miss out on a fifth presence in Qatar.


After topping their group and beating the Netherlands and England before losing 1-0 to France in the 2006 semifinals via an early penalty from Zinedine Zidane, Portugal finished second in their group behind Brazil and ahead of Ivory Coast and North Korea, before losing to the eventual champions in the Round of 16 via a goal from David Villa. 2014 would see them lose 4-0 to Germany and draw 2-2 to the United States, meaning they were effectively eliminated before the final match, which would see them defeat Ghana 2-1 in Brasilia.


Portugal kicked off their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign with a breathtaking 3-3 draw against Spain that would see Cristiano Ronaldo open the scoring from the penalty spot within four minutes, with Diego Costa equalizing 20 minutes later and Ronaldo restoring the lead on the cusp of the interval, only for Costa to complete his brace in the 55th minute and Nacho Fernández giving Spain the lead with a thunderbolt just three minutes later.


Spain looked to be headed for a victory until the 88th minute, when their Iberian neighbors received a free kick on the edge of the box. Up stepped Ronaldo, who curled a rocket into the top-right corner past his current teammate David De Gea and secured a 3-3 draw. The following match would see Ronaldo head home from a corner kick to give Portugal the lead within 4 minutes as the reigning European champions defeated Morocco 1-0 in Moscow.


Ronaldo had scored more goals within his first two matches of the 2018 World Cup than he had scored in his previous three tournaments — a late penalty in a 2-0 win against Iran in 2006 which saw him become the youngest Portuguese player to score in a World Cup, the sixth goal in a 7-0 win against North Korea in 2010, and the second goal in a 2-1 win in the ultimately meaningless match against Ghana. The third match would see Portugal take the lead before the break from Ricardo Quaresma, only to concede an extra-time penalty and draw 1-1 to Iran and finish second in their group.


He was unable to find the back of the net in the following match, a 2-1 loss to Uruguay which saw Edinson Cavani score a brace, as Portugal crashed out at the Round of 16 for the second time in three World Cups. Ronaldo has failed to score in eight of his last nine appearances for the national team, but his form at club level has been even more concerning with just two goals and one assist in his first 12 appearances this season.


Whilst Ronaldo has since returned to the starting line-up after serving a one-match suspension after marching off before the final whistle in a 2-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur that saw Ronaldo remain an unused substitute, he needs to find some confidence and goals as he prepares for what will likely be his fifth and final World Cup. If not, Portugal could very well suffer an early elimination as they look to navigate a group featuring South Korea, Uruguay and Ghana.


By: Zach Lowy / @ZachLowy

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / Matthew Peters / Manchester United