Cristiano Ronaldo did not have the World Cup he had no doubt dreamed of as Portugal lost out to Morocco in a quarter-final shock and he was not named in the starting XI.
The superstar forward was named on the bench again for the last-eight encounter, having already missed out on a starting role – amid much public hysteria – in the emphatic 6-1 win over Switzerland in the last 16. Ronaldo’s obvious concerns that he had been reduced to a bit-part player were heightened on Saturday when he was named among the substitutes for the meeting at Al Thumama Stadium. After Morocco took the lead just before the break, Fernando Santos sent him on to try and change the game. However, that ultimately proved impossible as Morocco created history and sent Portugal packing.
Ronaldo broke down in tears as he walked away and down the tunnel after the shock defeat, with his international future now very much in question after Portugal’s exit in Qatar. Could he ever accept a new reduced role within the Portugal squad, has he actually retired or spoken of his ambitions looking forward after the tournament in Qatar?
HAS RONALDO RETIRED FROM INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL AFTER WORLD CUP?
At this stage, no. Ronaldo has issued some hopeful-sounding statements regarding his availability for his country going forward, but we are yet to know if he will be in the plans of the Portugal manager by the time the next international tournament comes around.
The 37-year-old has stressed that he would “never turn my back on my country” after his World Cup dream was ended as Morocco became the first African side in history to earn a place in the final four of the World Cup.
Ronaldo broke down in tears as he disappeared down the tunnel after the shock defeat. And at 37, it is likely that Ronaldo’s dream of landing a World Cup is now over.
But in a post on social media, Ronaldo appeared to downplay speculation that he will retire from international football.
He said on Instagram: “Winning a World Cup for Portugal was the biggest and most ambitious dream of my career.
“Fortunately I won many titles of international dimension, including for Portugal, but putting our country’s name on the highest footing in the world was my biggest dream.
“I fought for it. I fought hard for this dream. In five appearances I scored in World Cups over 16 years, always by the side of great players and supported by millions of Portuguese people, I gave my all. I left it all out on the field. I never turned my face to the fight and I never gave up on that dream.
“Sadly, yesterday [Saturday], the dream ended. It’s not worth reacting in the heat of the moment. I just want you all to know that much has been said, much has been written, much has been speculated, but my dedication to Portugal has not changed for a moment. I was always one fighting for the objective of all and I would never turn my back on my colleagues and my country.
“Not much more to say for now. Thank you, Portugal. Thank you, Qatar. The dream was nice while it lasted… Now, here’s hoping that time will be a good advisor and allow everyone to draw their own conclusions.”
WAS THIS RONALDO’S LAST WORLD CUP WITH PORTUGAL?
Again, we do not know just yet what the future will hold for Portugal or for Ronaldo on the international scene. What did not bode particularly well for his standing within the team was Santos stressing that he did not regret his decision to bench the star.
“No regrets. I think this was a team which played very well against Switzerland. Cristiano’s a great player. He came on when we thought that was necessary,” he told reporters after the 1-0 loss to Morocco.
“Of course, our players are distressed, they are upset. We are even more upset because we know we have skilful players, and we were expecting to give more joy to the Portuguese people.
“We knew the challenges we would face, especially in terms of defensive strategy. We tried to make the game hard for our opponents, but we were not successful. Obviously, we also need to give credit to the Moroccan squad. I think it’s not fair for us to lose but that’s football.”
Ronaldo will be 41 when the next World Cup is played in USA, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
WHICH CLUB DOES RONALDO NOW PLAY FOR?
We do not yet know who Ronaldo will represent in club football after his very high-profile exit from Manchester United by mutual consent following his blowtorch interview with Piers Morgan. He is a free agent, officially, and so clubs will be preparing offers for him – or not if they can’t afford to do so.
The latest transfer rumours?
Firstly, Ronaldo has denied widespread reports that he is set to move to Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr.
He had reportedly been offered a two-and-a-half year deal worth around £173 million per season to move to Saudi Arabia. However, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has rejected reports a deal has been agreed upon.
“No, that’s not true — not true,” the 37-year-old told reporters in the mixed zone following Portugal’s 6-1 win over Switzerland.
Ronaldo left United after an explosive interview where he criticised the club’s ownership, manager Erik ten Hag and the infrastructure.
His next destination is unclear with Chelsea and Newcastle reportedly distancing themselves from a move, while boyhood club Sporting Lisbon are unable to afford his wages.
Last month, Bayern Munich CEO Oliver Kahn confirmed the Bundesliga champions would not be signing him.