Portugal got off to a winning start at the 2022 World Cup after an exciting 3-2 victory against Ghana. The Seleçao dominated the first half but were unable to break the deadlock, Ronaldo spurning the best chance in the 10th minute.
Fernando Santos’ side deservedly went ahead in the 65th minute when Ronaldo won and converted a penalty. The lead lasted just eight minutes however when André Ayew converted from close range.
Bruno Fernandes assisted two quick fire goals for João Félix and Rafael Leão with the victory seemingly assured, Osman Bukari reducing the deficit in the 89th minute to set up a grandstand finish.
Portugal endured nine minutes of added time, Diogo Costa narrowly escaping an embarrassing situation in the final minute when he was outsmarted by Iñaki Williams.
PortuGOAL’s Matthew Marshall reports from Stadium 974
Portugal assert their authority
Bernardo Silva saw plenty of the ball in the opening stages, the playmaker enjoying a free role which allowed him to roam across the pitch in an attempt to create overloads.
Portugal’s press was being effectively implemented, hunting in packs to win the ball in Ghana’s half which was resulting in chances being created.
The first came in the 10th minute when Mohammed Kudus lost possession, Bruno Fernandes finding Cristiano Ronaldo who couldn’t control the ball in time with Lawrence Ati Zigi making an important save.
Portugal’s intricate passing on the edge of the box was causing Ghana plenty of problems. Raphaël Guerreiro sent a cross into the box which saw Ronaldo rise high and head wide.
The Seleçao continued to dominate possession but were unable to go through Ghana’s deep lying defence, attempts to go over it just as problematic. The African side were frequently resorting to cheap fouls with referee Ismail Elfath unwilling to brandish any yellow cards.
Ronaldo put the ball in the back of the net in the 31st minute but the goal was ruled out for a soft foul on Alexander Djiku.
Ghana eventually won their first corner in the 37th minute which signaled a brief spell of pressure from the African side, but they were unable to manufacture a single shot in the opening half.
Ghana created their first attempt in the 55th minute, Kudus turning Rúben Neves inside out before driving forward and firing a low drive that narrowly missed the post.
A minute later Otávio picked up a knock and was replaced by William Carvalho.
João Félix got into a heated confrontation with Alidu Seidu which saw both players clash heads, the skull to skull confrontation largely instigated by the Portuguese forward. He soon got his revenge however, playing a ball into the box from which Portugal won a penalty.
Ronaldo latched onto the ball and went to ground after minimal contact with Mohammed Salisu, stepping up and slamming an unstoppable spot kick past Zigi to become the first male player to score in five World Cups.
Ghana refused to lie down with Kudus the instigator, firing their first shot on target in the 72nd minute which stung Diogo Costa’s hands. A minute later Kudus played a big role in the equaliser.
The Ajax attacking midfielder latched onto a through ball that didn’t appear to have his name on it, his cross going through Danilo and finding André Ayew who had a simple finish from close range.
Otto Addo soon made two changes to protect two of his booked players, Kudus and Ayew replaced with Osman Bukari and Jordan Ayew.
Portugal go two goals clear
Fernando Santos introduced Rafael Leão for Rúben Neves in the 77th minute and three minutes later Portugal had taken a 3-1 lead.
Bruno Fernandes’ through ball evaded Abdul-Rahman Baba, Félix accepting the gift and showing composure to slot the ball past Zigi.
Félix then won the ball inside Portugal’s half, Fernandes racing clear and releasing Leão who found the bottom corner with a smart first time finish.
Santos made a triple switch in the closing stages with Bernardo Silva, Félix and Ronaldo making way for João Palhinha, João Mário and Gonçalo Ramos.
Just when it seemed like a comfortable cruise to the finish line was coming up, Ghana got a goal back in the 89th minute. Baba won a duel with Cancelo, his deflected cross falling perfectly for an unmarked Bukari who headed the ball past Costa.
The goal set up a nervy nine minutes of added time which had Portuguese supporters on the edge of their seats.
It was largely negotiated with minimal fuss until Diogo Costa had a brain explosion in the final minute of the game, rolling the ball in front of him unaware that Iñaki Williams was waiting in the shadows. Williams stole the ball and slipped over, Rúben Dias recovering to clear the danger and preserve the three points.
A win is a win
Portugal completely bossed the first half with Ghana requiring 72 minutes to test Diogo Costa. There was some scintillating attacking and link up play on display which will provide plenty of confidence that more goals are on the way.
It was difficult for João Cancelo and Raphaël Guerreiro to get into attacking positions due to the nature of Ghana’s wing-back formation and Santos selecting one defensive midfielder.
Conceding two goals is obviously not ideal, but the first was slightly fortunate, the second a result of losing an individual duel and a deflection.
There were enough positives to take from the match however, many of those revolving around Bruno Fernandes and João Félix who justified his starting spot and will have gained plenty of confidence after instigating two of Portugal’s goals and scoring the second.
Portugal are in a great position, a two point lead at the top of Group H before taking on Uruguay and South Korea.
Otávio was rewarded with a start in Doha, his versatility and tenacity useful attributes in midfield, especially in the first half as a key part of Portugal’s press.
Fernando Santos has so many options, and with Otávio picking up a knock and Uruguay presenting a different challenge, particularly in midfield, we could see some changes against the South American side.
Nuno Mendes had muscle pain which saw Raphaël Guerreiro get the nod at left-back. Mendes will be hoping to be fit for Uruguay which will be a big boost for the Seleçao.
Danilo partnered Rúben Dias in central defence and had a solid game. Let’s see how Pepe is utilised in Qatar, the 39-year-old surely desperate to get on the pitch in his final international tournament but unable to play every four days.
Ronaldo breaking more records
Cristiano Ronaldo was the star of the show in Doha, many of the international journalists and football supporters in attendance in Doha seeing the superstar live in the flesh for the first time.
He had two great chances to score in the opening 15 minutes before stepping up to score his 118th international goal from the penalty spot.
Fernando Santos described him as a phenomenon, saying “in 50 years we will continue to talk about him”. None would argue.
The 37-year-old became the first male player to score in five World Cups, yet another achievement on his ever growing list of goalscoring records that may never be equaled or surpassed.
Portugal (4-1-3-2): Diogo Costa - João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, Danilo, Raphael Guerreiro, Otávio (William Carvalho, 56'), Rúben Neves (Leão, 77'), Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva (João Palhinha, 88'), Cristiano Ronaldo (Gonçalo Ramos, 88'), João Félix (João Mário, 88')
Ghana (5-3-2): Lawrence, Mohammed Salisu, Thomas Partey, André Ayew (Jordan Ayew, 77'), Rahman Baba, Daniel Amartey, Iñaki Williams, Mohammed Kudus (Bukari, 77'), Salis Abdul Samed (Antoine Semenyo, 90'), Alexander Djiku (Daniel-Kofi Kyereh, 90'), Alidu Seidu (Lamptey, 66')
[1-0] Ronaldo (pen), 65'
[1-1] André Ayew, 73'
[2-1] João Félix, 78'
[3-1] Rafael Leão, 80'
[3-2] Osman Bukari, 89'