FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: Ronaldo’s curtain call?

Cristiano Ronaldo lifts the Euro 2016 trophy for Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo lifts the Euro 2016 trophy for Portugal Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
By Ben Kelly
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It's been a glistening 19-year international career for Portugal legend Cristiano Ronaldo. Will the winter World Cup in Qatar be his last tournament?

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With just a month to go until the 2022 Qatar World Cup kicks off, the excitement is growing as fans get closer to seeing some of the world's best players in the flesh.

Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the biggest names in football history. The 37-year-old is in the twilight years of a glittering 20-year career in football. Even though times are tough in his club career, he's hoping he can still make a massive impact at what could be his final World Cup for his country.

The international team are not just about Ronaldo, though. For their population, Portugal has always punched above their weight in terms of footballing talent. They have won the UEFA Nations League and the European Championships in the past six years. So, can they complete the set and lift the World Cup in Qatar in 2022?

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Portugal celebrate winning Euro 2016 (left) and the 2019 Nations League (right)AP Photo

Portugal's group/route to Lusail

In Group H, Portugal is ranked top among Ghana, Uruguay, and the Republic of Korea, a group from which they should be able to progress easily. However, despite having an embarrassment of riches in terms of top-level talent, Portugal will have to come up against some of the game's biggest stars in their group games.

The first game, against Ghana, will see them face Premier League stars Thomas Partey and Tariq Lamptey. Both are in good form for their clubs in England in the lead-up to the tournament. As far as Ghana is concerned, their memorable moment will be their infamous game against Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup. A deliberate handball on the line from Luis Suarez stopped them from progressing to the semi-finals. They will be looking forward to seeking revenge in the group stage here.

In this group, Uruguay will probably be Portugal's biggest challenge. Suarez is still very much involved in the national side 12 years after his goal-line exploits in South Africa, along with the man many Uruguay fans see as the future of their attack: Darwin Nuñez. Darwin completed a big-money move to Liverpool this summer, but so far, the goals have struggled to come naturally in Merseyside. Perhaps some big performances at the World Cup will give him the confidence boost he needs.

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Luis Suarez (left) and Darwin Nunez (right) represent UruguayAP Photo

Finally, the Republic of Korea will also be looking to make an impact in this group. They were partially successful in knocking out Germany in the group stage of the 2018's tournament. Their talisman, Son Heung-Ming, is one of the best players ever to represent the country, not only at the international level but also at the top level of club football. Since 2015, he has been Tottenham Hotspur's main man, scoring 96 goals across all competitions.

While each team will pose different problems for Portugal, they will back themselves to top the group and advance. If they do, they will face the runner-up of Group G in the round of 16. It could be Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, or Cameroon. From there, they would face a team from Group F or E in the quarter-final, including teams such as Spain, Germany and Belgium. They could then face teams such as England, Argentina or France in a semi-final at Al Bayt Stadium before heading to Lusail for the final.

Key players

An entire article could be written about Cristiano Ronaldo's influence and importance in Portugal's elite football over the past two decades. But the team is not just about him these days. The international team that will arrive in Qatar comprises top footballing talent looking to create some big moments in this World Cup.

Like Ronaldo, some of Portugal's starters play in top-flight English clubs. Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva represent Manchester United or Manchester City at club level and are all nailed to start for their national team. Then there's Diogo Jota, an important player for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, and Ruben Neves, who has been integral for Wolverhampton Wanderers since arriving there from Porto in 2017.

Brilliant players aside, fans are growing tired of coach Fernando Santos' pragmatic approach to winning games. Their winning Euro 2016 campaign began with three draws to progress from the group stage. They squeezed past Poland on penalties and won the final in extra time against France. Some may say a win is a win, but plenty of fans want a change in approach with so many creative players available to Portugal.

"People want Portugal to take the initiative to play a beautiful game. We have the talent," explained Bruno Sousa, a journalist for Euronews.

"We have Bernardo, and we have Felix, we have Leão, we have Jota. We have a lot of talent up front, and we no longer want to rely on Ronaldo's goals because, right now, Ronaldo's goals aren't coming. The other players aren't stepping up either because the system hasn't been designed for them."

Francisco Seco/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.
Ronaldo scores a last minute free-kick against Spain at the 2018 World CupFrancisco Seco/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.

Portugal fans will be desperate to see Ronaldo lift the cup in Qatar this winter. But will his loss of form this year mean he won't be able to make Portugal tick at this World Cup? Or will the team's other talented players finally rise to the occasion and ease their captain's burden? We don't have to wait long to find out, as the tournament is only a few weeks away.

Journalist • Ben Kelly

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