By STEVE DOUGLAS
DOHA, Qatar — Cristiano Ronaldo closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then made World Cup history.
The Portuguese striker became the first male player to score in five World Cups with his 65th-minute penalty in a 3-2 win over Ghana on Thursday.
Days after his Manchester United contract was terminated following a revealing interview, he let his football do the talking at the start of his likely final World Cup.
“It was a beautiful moment,” Ronaldo said. “The world record, the only player to score in five World Cups, makes me very proud.”
Rolling after the ball hit the back of the net to give Portugal a 1-0 lead, a smiling Ronaldo performed his usual leap and swing in the air – the crowd roared his trademark ‘SI-UUU’ as he pirouetted – before being mobbed by his teammates.
He has now scored at every World Cup since his first in 2006, when a penalty against Iran started his scoring streak in the tournament which now stands at eight from 18 appearances. He has a men’s record of 118 international goals.
“I think Cristiano is a phenomenon, a legend,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “In 50 years, we will continue to talk about him.”
His latest goalscoring record adds to the luster of a resume that should ensure Ronaldo receives plenty of offers from new clubs following his split from United on Tuesday. It came after giving an unauthorized interview to Piers Morgan criticizing the English club’s manager, owners and teammates.
His tough build-up for the tournament didn’t seem to affect Ronaldo against Ghana, even though he squandered two clean chances in the first half.
“It’s a week that ended this chapter (with United),” Ronaldo said. “It’s closed and now I want to start on the right foot. We started, we won, I want to help my team and everything else doesn’t matter.”
Ronaldo finished the game with his head in his hands in sheer relief after Ghana nearly snatched a ninth-minute draw in added time through ingenuity.
In the final action of the match, Ghana striker Inaki Williams ducked behind Diogo Costa as the Portuguese keeper rolled the ball on the ground and prepared to clear it. Williams dispossessed Costa and, despite slipping, managed to push the ball towards goal.
Portugal defender Danilo ran back and cleared the ball close to the line as Ronaldo, who sat in the dugout after being substituted, watched in disbelief.
All the goals came in a crazy final half-hour, with Andre Ayew equalizing for Ghana eight minutes after Ronaldo converted his penalty after falling under a challenge from Mohammed Salisu.
Ghana coach Otto Addo called the penalty a “special gift from the referee”.
Joao Felix regained the lead for Portugal in the 78th minute following a through ball from Bruno Fernandes, who then set up Rafael Leao to add a third. Osman Bukari cut Ghana’s deficit in the 89th, celebrating comically by performing Ronaldo’s “SI-UUU” whirlwind.
None of the five African teams present at the World Cup have won their first game of the group stage. Ghana lost, as did Senegal and Cameroon, while Tunisia and Morocco drew. “They didn’t win but I saw they could compete with the opponent,” Addo said. “Hopefully we can improve.”
Inaki Williams made his first competitive start for Ghana, a day after his brother Nico came on for Spain in a 7-0 win over Costa Rica. Inaki Williams switched allegiance this year from Spain to Ghana, which is the country where his parents were born and moved to decades ago when his mother was pregnant with him.
Portugal face Uruguay on Monday. Ghana face South Korea on the same day.
California Daily Newspapers