All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo in the likelihood of his final World Cup in Qatar 2022. The 37-year-old has won every prize in the game, but the ultimate international team crown has evaded his grasp.
Portugal came close at the 2006 World Cup but were knocked out in the semi-final stage by France. Since then Portugal have failed to progress beyond the round of 16, losing out at the hands of Uruguay in the 2018 World Cup.
Ronaldo and his teammates have a massive challenge to compete in Qatar 2022 after requiring a playoff spot to qualify for the tournament. Ronaldo still has his clinical edge in the final third, especially at international level after he surpassed Ali Daei’s record to become the most prolific goalscorer of all time. However, he will need support at the World Cup just as he received at Euro 2016 when the Selecao stunned the continent to win the crown.
🗣 "So happy, for the special moments that we have."— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 1, 2021
Cristiano Ronaldo described it as a 'special moment', after his record-breaking goals secured a 2-1 win for Portugal over Republic of Ireland 👇 pic.twitter.com/O21ttiRxDf
It was not all about Ronaldo on that occasion, especially after he was forced to leave the final after only 25 minutes due to injury. Fernando Santos cultivated a strong team spirit and used Ronaldo as the focal point to drive Portugal to the final before overcoming France. The system will have to be in place for the Selecao to succeed in Qatar, where they are backed in the odds with Football BetUK at 14/1 to win the tournament.
The bookies are down on Portugal’s hopes for good reason after they finished second behind Serbia in their World Cup qualifying group. Santos’ men were forced to battle past Turkey and then North Macedonia to secure their place, which was an easier route than first predicted. Italy’s shocking defeat to North Macedonia allowed the Selecao the chance to overcome the unheralded nation, and unlike the Azzurri, they held their composure under pressure.
Portugal should have a rested Ronaldo for the tournament. The 37-year-old has played a lot of football in recent years and still played 38 matches for Manchester United last season. New United manager Erik ten Hag has eased the burden on Ronaldo in the final third, allowing him to operate from the bench in the early stages of the campaign. Ronaldo does not have the energy to carry teams anymore.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick were perhaps guilty of asking too much from the veteran forward. Instead, Ten Hag has trusted Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to start for the club, allowing him to deploy Ronaldo only when required. The Portuguese will get on the field to build up minutes before the World Cup, but Santos will be reassured that he will not be getting a fatigued Ronaldo when he needs him most to fire the Selecao out of Group H against old foes Uruguay along with Ghana and South Korea for company.
Portugal have outstanding talent to supply Ronaldo in the final third. Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Ruben Neves, and Goncalo Guedes are all quality operators and will create the opportunities that Ronaldo needs to thrive in the World Cup. Whether Portugal are enough of a well-rounded team to compete with the best in the world is debatable. But boasting Ronaldo in the ranks always gives them a chance.