Two days after his tumultuous departure from Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo will begin his World Cup campaign with Portugal and will seek to put the events of the past week and a half behind him.
Portugal take on Ghana at Stadium 974 on Thursday, kicking off what will likely be the 37-year-old Ronaldo’s last World Cup – a trophy that has so far eluded him during his decorated career .
A successful tournament in Qatar would also see Ronaldo out of his messy divorce from United after ending his second stint at the club on Tuesday.
It came after the striker gave an explosive interview to Talk TV in which he said he felt betrayed by United and launched a scathing attack on manager Erik ten Hag.
And as the World Cup begins, Ronaldo ensured his Portuguese team-mates’ attention would not be shaken by the timing of his explosive interview.
“In my life, the best timing is always my timing,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t have to think about what other people think. I talk when I want. The players have known me very well for many years and know the type of person I am.
Following the announcement of his departure from Manchester United, Ronaldo was suspended for two games and fined £50,000 (approximately $60,000) by the English Football Association (FA) for snatching a mobile phone from hands of a spectator earlier this year.
The incident came after United’s 1-0 loss to April at Everton. As well as the fine and suspension – which does not apply to the World Cup but will be transferred to any new club he joins – Ronaldo has been warned by the FA about his future conduct.
Portugal are heavy favorites against Ghana with 52 places separating the teams in the FIFA rankings.
But pedigree and star power seem to count for little in this World Cup, a tournament in which underdogs have fared well against more powerful 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 must not give in to complacency.
Having not reached the quarter-finals of a World Cup since 2006, Portugal have a point to prove in Qatar and come to the tournament with considerable firepower.
Despite the absence of Liverpool striker Diogo Jota through injury, Ronaldo, his former United team-mate Bruno Fernandes and Manchester City stars João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva are all likely to feature on Thursday.
Facing them, a Ghanaian team short of form but not lacking in quality.
Having been knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations after a humiliating group stage loss to Comoros in January, the Black Stars will benefit from the ‘signings’ of striker Inaki Williams and right-back Tariq Lamptey ahead of the game. tournament.
Williams switched allegiance from Spain earlier this year and Lamptey from England.
Otto Addo – the tournament’s only part-time manager – also has star midfielder Mohammed Kudus and experienced campaigners including Thomas Partey and brothers Ayew, Jordan and Andre at his disposal.
It remains to be seen whether Addo, who mainly works as a scout for German side Borussia Dortmund, can make Ghana click.
Uruguay and South Korea are also in Group H, which play 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 striker Darwin Núñez will also feature in the 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 recovered from a damaged eye socket and trained with a protective mask this week.
In Thursday’s other games, pre-tournament favorites Brazil and Serbia will be the last two teams to kick off their tournaments when they meet at Lusail Stadium.
Five-time champions Brazil have arguably the best attacking line-up in the tournament, both in terms of quality and depth.
Neymar Jr – like fellow talismans Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – is in the hunt for his first World Cup trophy, and he will be ably backed alongside Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr., Barcelona’s Raphinha and Everton’s Richarlison.
But Serbia, who topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, will be no pushover and have plenty of goalscoring prowess with captain Dušan Tadić, Juventus striker Dušan Vlahović and Fulham leader Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, both Vlahović and Mitrovic nursed injuries prior to the tournament.
Hoping to reach the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time, Serbia will likely have to battle Switzerland and Cameroon, who meet on Thursday, to reach the round of 16 – barring disastrous results for Brazil.
But as this World Cup has demonstrated so far, don’t rule anything out.
Switzerland vs Cameroon – 5 a.m. EST
Uruguay vs South Korea – 8 a.m. ET
Portugal vs Ghana – 11 a.m. ET
Brazil vs Serbia – 2 p.m. ET
United States: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Brazil: Sport TV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC
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