Ronaldo eyes first in last chance
Sochi, June 14: Cristiano Ronaldo will launch his latest and probably last attempt to crown his career with a World Cup winners medal when European champions Portugal face neighbours Spain in their opening World Cup game here on Friday.
The 33-year-old will lock horns with six of his Real Madrid teammates as the Spaniards attempt to shrug off the shock sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui following the announcement that he will take over at the Bernabeu next month.
It is worth wondering what Ronaldo might have known of Lopetegui’s imminent appointment at Real, given the relationship both have with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, at a time when the forward’s own club future remains the source of speculation.
But now, amid all that, Ronaldo’s focus is on the World Cup, the one major honour still missing from his CV.
It is a stretch to make Portugal one of the favourites to win the trophy, even with Ronaldo, but they are nevertheless in Russia as the reigning European champions after surprising France on home soil two years ago.
Ronaldo is 33 now, still in fantastic physical condition and the reigning Ballon d’Or winner. He can probably play on for as long as he wants, but it is hard to imagine him returning for a fifth World Cup in Qatar in 2022.
If he is to cap his career with a World Cup winner’s medal, then now is his time, and what better way to start than by inspiring Portugal to victory over their neighbours and put themselves in pole position in Group B.
“Of course Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world at the moment and he will be the top player at this World Cup. There are no words to describe him,” said admiring teammate Joao Mario at Portugal’s base near Moscow this week.
At the World Cup so far, Ronaldo has managed just three goals in three tournaments — a penalty against Iran in 2006; one against North Korea in 2010, and one against Ghana in 2014.
There will be an obvious determination to improve that record in Russia, with Portugal also facing Morocco and Iran in their group. But he also needs to act as a father figure to the talented young members of Fernando Santos’s squad.