Cristiano Ronaldo carried Portugal for 14 years, his teammates couldn’t carry him for 90 minutes


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Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of completing his trophy cabinet with the World Cup came to a shocking end as Portugal lost to Morocco.

It was one of the saddest sights in world football as Ronaldo, 37, knew that this was his last attempt at winning the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy and it ended in tears as he was sobbing before disappearing into the tunnel.

Ronaldo and his former Sporting Lisbon and Real Madrid teammate Pepe were the cornerstones of Portugal’s footballing hopes over the last 14 years. The duo has enjoyed unprecedented success during their tenure with the Los Blancos and have carried the nation’s hopes at far too many international tournaments.

Before Ronaldo came along to the international setup, Portugal had failed to qualify for 14 of their previous 17 World Cups. They didn’t qualify for 8 out of 11 European Championships and had no major trophies to their name despite producing incredible talents over the years.

This changed after the inclusion of Ronaldo and Pepe. They have qualified for every international tournament since their respective debuts and have won two trophies.

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It was this duo that played a massive role in Portugal’s 2016 Euros success. Pepe was arguably the best player of the tournament and Ronaldo carried the attack and turned it up like only Ronaldo can, especially when it mattered most.

Fernando Santos was the mastermind behind this success, the mastermind behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatest triumph. The former Sporting Lisbon manager found ways to galvanize his troops and get them ready for battle. Just four players in that squad plied their trade in Europe’s top-five leagues at the time, Ronaldo and Pepe representing Real Madrid, José Fonte and Cédric Soares from Southampton being the other two.

However, it was also Santos who is mainly culpable for the downfall of this Portuguese team in Qatar. The 58-year-old came up with strange tactical and personnel decisions during the World Cup and that has consistently been the case for the last four years. For instance, not starting Rafael Leão, one of the best players in Serie A, in any of the games in Qatar is baffling.

A lot was made of Santos’ decision to replace Ronaldo in the starting line-up with Gonçalo Ramos. It made sense tactically as Switzerland tend to play a high line and Portugal needed pace with their outlet pass. Santos was justified in the end as the Benfica forward scored a hattrick.

However, to not start Ronaldo against Morocco’s low-block was a mistake. In fact, starting Ronaldo and Ramos could have been the right way to line-up as coupling Ronaldo with another forward in the box could wreak havoc in the opposing defence as they cannot solely zone in on Portugal’s number 7.

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Portugal’s best moments in the game came when both of them were on the pitch together. Unfortunately, that did not last long as Ramos was hooked just after the hour mark for Leão, who isn’t a forward but rather an out and out left winger. This left Ronaldo alone in the box and with three Moroccan defenders marking him, the talisman had little to no service.

What certainly didn’t help Portugal’s cause was the abhorrent performances from the Premier League quartet of Bruno Fernandes, Rúben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Rúben Neves. Fernandes was racking up incredible numbers in Qatar this year but like the underlying narrative that has existed during his career, the midfielder went missing when it mattered most. The same can be said about Silva as his contribution to the attack was very little, if anything.

While almost all of these players will get a chance to play at the World Cup again in 2026, this was Ronaldo and Pepe’s last hurrah. The desperation on their faces was quite evident towards the end of the game, especially considering that Pepe played the match with a broken arm.

Cristiano Ronaldo will be 38 in two months’ time. Surely this was his last World Cup as he will be 41 by the time the 2026 edition rolls around, but you never know with him. Ronaldo has defied age and logic innumerable times throughout his career, but if this was the last time we’ve seen him on football’s biggest stage, then it was a bitter end to the international career of the greatest player of all time.

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About Author

As an aspiring sports media personality, I follow football, tennis, and the NBA with blind passion. The Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA and Real Madrid in football are the teams I root for and I am also a massive fanboy of José Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zach LaVine.

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