Malta Independent

Cristiano Ronaldo out to impress in Portugal’s first game at World Cup


Cristiano Ronaldo is in the shop window as he starts his fifth and probably final W orld C up with Portugal.

As of late Tuesday, the 37-yearold f orward was without a club after Manchester United canceled his contract as a r esult of his explosive interview criticizin­g manager Erik t en Hag, the club 's owners and man y of his Unit ed teammates.

Ronaldo doesn't appear to have a new t eam lined up so his performanc­es at the World Cup might yet convince potential employers to take the plunge on the five-time world player of the year, who may be past his prime but remains one of soccer's most lethal finishers on his day.

Speaking before the announceme­nt that he had left Unit ed by mutual consent , R onaldo w as adamant that club matters would not impact his displays for Portugal at the World Cup and were not disrupting the atmosphere in the squad heading int o Thursda y's group game against Ghana at Stadium 974 in Doha.

That might need revisiting now. The moti vation of winning the World C up f or the first time is likely driving Ronaldo enough in Qatar, but impressing a potential new club would be a nice bonus to go alongside it.

"Nothing will shake this squad," Ronaldo said at a news conference in Doha this week.

A loss to Ghana might.

The African nation is the lowestrank­ed team at the World Cup — at No. 61 — and is the big underdog in a gr oup also containing Uruguay and South Korea.

Still, Saudi Arabia showed anything is possible at this t ournament b y beating Lionel Messi's

Argentina against the odds on Tuesday, and Ghana has previously come within a handball by Luis Suarez of playing in a World Cup semifinal — in 2010.

Son likely in mask for South Korea vs. Uruguay at World Cup

Son Heung-min is likely to mask up as South Korea faces Uruguay in their Group H opener at the World Cup in Qatar.

Son has scored 35 goals in 104 internatio­nals but hasn't played since Nov. 2 when he sustained a fracture around his left eye in a collision with Marseille's Chancel Mbemba in a Champions League match.

Son, who tied as Premier League top scorer last season, has said he expects to play with a protective mask. But there have to be worries about how effective he can be — and what the dangers are of playing with the mask, which he has worn in training since arriving in Qatar.

Much of South Korea's offense is based around Son's speed, his ability to strike with both feet, and his accuracy on dead-ball plays.

For Uruguay striker Luis Suarez will be playing in his fourth World Cup along with veteran teammate Edinson Cavani.

Suarez has scored seven World Cup goals. That is one short of national record holder Óscar Míguez, who played on the 1950 winning team.

Uruguay faces a generation­al change on the field with veteran players like Suarez and Cavani likely at their last World Cup.

There's change on the bench, too. Oscar Tabarez is gone and replaced by Diego Alonso, who has little experience at this level. Tabarez led Uruguay at three World Cups but stepped away earlier this year after a series of poor results. It was Tabarez that took the team to the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

First win key in tough World Cup group for Swiss, Cameroon

Even for their opening game at the World Cup, Switzerlan­d against Cameroon has the look of a must-win opportunit­y in a tough group.

With talent-packed Brazil and robust Serbia also in Group G, taking three points in the early afternoon heat on Thursday shapes as a key step for each team to advance.

The task is harder for Cameroon based on recent World Cup form after being swept aside in three straight losses at each of its past two appearance­s, in 2014 and 2010.

In that period the Indomitabl­e Lions have scored fewer goals collective­ly as a team on soccer's biggest stage than a single Swiss player, Xherdan Shaqiri.

The score is 4-3 in Shaqiri's favor since 2010 when he made his World Cup debut as a teenager. Now 31 and playing in MLS with Chicago Fire,

Shaqiri returns again as playmaker equalling a Swiss record at his fourth edition of the tournament. Goals will more likely come from in-form Monaco forward Breel Embolo.

At age 33, Cameroon's star forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrives at his third edition in prolific form at Bayern Munich and looking for his first career World Cup goal.

Choupo-Moting's 11 goals in all competitio­ns this season helped plug the gap left by Robert Lewandowsk­i's departure and lifted Bayern back atop the Bundesliga at the enforced mid-season break.

Both Cameroon and Switzerlan­d come to Qatar with solid results at their continenta­l championsh­ips in the past 18 months though each now with different coaches.

Neymar silent before Brazil opens vs. Serbia at World Cup

Neymar hasn't spoken a word publicly since arriving at the World Cup. And he hasn't had to.

That's because his intentions are clear.

The Paris Saint-Germain star made sure of that when he posted a photo on social media with a sixth star photoshopp­ed onto his shorts around Brazil's logo during the flight to Qatar — referring to a hoped-for, recordexte­nding sixth World Cup title for the South American team.

"This is our dream," Brazil forward Richarliso­n said. "Neymar posted that photo because it's his dream, too. He wants to win that and we know how willing he is to win that. He can do whatever he wants. It's his dream. If Neymar is happy here, we will be happy. That's the most important thing."

That's the general feeling: Brazil 's fate depends on Neymar's form and mental state.

The Seleção open on Thursday against a Serbia side that has not met high expectatio­ns on soccer's biggest stages.

Neymar enters in good form after a series of injuries since the 2018 World Cup — when Brazil was beaten by Belgium in the quarterfin­als. His only issue so far was showing up a day late to Brazil's pre-tournament training camp in Turin, Italy, because of a problem with his flight.

Serbia, meanwhile, is aiming to advance from the group stage for the first time in its fourth World Cup appearance as an independen­t nation. It has also failed to qualify for the European Championsh­ip in five tries.

Many of Serbia's players were on the team that beat Brazil to lift the under-20 World Cup trophy in 2015; as well as a win over France in the final of the under-19 European Championsh­ip final two years earlier.

But Aleksandar Mitrović, Sergej Milinković-Savić, Nemanja Maksimović and Andrija Živković, who were on those youth teams, have failed to reproduce the same success at the senior level for Serbia.

Add in 22-year-old center forward Dušan Vlahović, who scored 50 goals in all competitio­ns with Fiorentina and Juventus over the past two seasons, though, and Serbia might finally have the firepower to fulfil its potential.

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