This summer’s World Cup in Russia promises to be one of the most spectacular editions ever for a number of reasons, but it is the last chance to shine on the biggest stage of all for one man. Cristiano Ronaldo has won every major prize in football, but success at the World Cup has eluded him. At the age of 33 this is likely to be his last tournament and he will be pulling out all the stops to carry reigning European champions Portugal to the final.
Portugal are not fancied to win the competition. Fans who check out the World Cup favourites on Stakers.com will see Ronaldo’s side outside the top five in the tournament winners’ market, but their experience of grinding out results at major tournaments, combined with the genius of Ronaldo, makes them a dangerous side to overlook.
For Ronaldo, this is about putting right a surprisingly ordinary record in the tournament. The great man has played 13 World Cup games, but has scored just three goals in those matches spread across three tournaments; a tally that is in sharp contrast to his position as Portugal’s leading all-time goalscorer and the five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or.
His first appearance, in Germany in 2006, came three years after his international debut. He was part of a team that included Luis Figo, Deco, Simao and Pauleta, at a time when he was rated one of the world’s most exciting players. It proved to be a tumultuous tournament for the young star, who scored his first World Cup goal against Iran, suffered an injury in the last sixteen game against the Netherlands, scored the winning goal in the penalty shoot-out against England, and suffered defeat in the semi-final against France.
Four years later, Ronaldo arrived at the World Cup in South Africa as the world’s most expensive player, having moved to Real Madrid for €94 million. As a number of Portuguese stalwarts had left the side, Ronaldo took on a leadership role, but the style of the team’s play gave him little opportunity to express himself and their exit from the tournament at the hands of Spain added another layer of disappointment to his World Cup story.
There was more heartache to come. At the 2014 World Cup, Ronaldo went into the tournament suffering from a niggling knee injury. He managed to play all three Group games but the team struggled, losing 4-0 to Germany in their opening match, salvaging a draw with a 95th minute equaliser against the USA and eventually going home early despite Ronaldo’s third World Cup goal, which secured a 2-1 win over Ghana.
Victory at Euro 2016 erased some of those bad memories, but the legendary Portuguese captain would dearly love to add the World Cup trophy to his collection. The team came through a relatively easy qualifying group, though they lost to Switzerland along the way. They have also lost friendlies against Sweden and the Netherlands in the last twelve months and drawn with the USA. But with Ronaldo in the team, anything is possible. In what may well be his last tilt at the World Cup, it would be a fitting conclusion to the tournament to see one of football’s greatest ever players achieve the ultimate prize.