Cristiano Ronaldo has shown that even at 33, he is still in the conversation of being the best player in the world.
His age also unfortunately means that the 2018 World Cup will likely be the last appearance at the international tournament in his prime athletic years.
While he’s found success at the international level, Portugal won the 2016 Euros, the World Cup’s golden trophy is one of the biggest absences in his cabinet. All eyes will be on the world’s most famous player as he tries to capture it for likely the final time.
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Sporting News looks back at Ronaldo’s World Cup history, through all the highs and lows.
2006 World Cup – Germany
After helping Portugal reach the UEFA Euro 2004 final, the world was excited to see what one of Europe’s brightest stars would do next on the international stage. His tournament highlight wasn’t a goal or an assist, it was a wink. During Portugal’s quarterfinal game against England, Wayne Rooney stomped on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho’s ankle and was sent off. English media speculated it was because of Ronaldo’s aggresive complaining towards the referee. While the official clarified the red card was only for the stomp, Ronaldo did not help his case when he winked at the Portugese bench following Rooney’s dismissal. To make things worse for the new Manchester United star, he scored the winning penalty in the ensuing shootout.
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Portugal moved on to face France in the semifinals, where the team was ultimately defeated, 1-0. Ronaldo finished the tournament with one goal and was notably jeered during his final two games against Les Bleus and Germany, in the third-place playoff.
2010 World Cup – South Africa
It was a tough road to South Africa for Ronaldo. While he had won a Ballon D’Or and became the world’s most expensive player (€94 million) when he signed for Real Madrid, he failed to score a single goal during Portugal’s qualifying campaign. It wasn’t until a 7-0 thrashing against North Korea in the group stages that Ronaldo scored his first international goal in 16 months.
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After going undefeated in the group stage, the Portugese were rewarded with a Round of 16 matchup against reigning European champions, and eventual World Cup champions, Spain. La Roja won 1-0 while dominating possession and only allowing three shots on target. Ronaldo ended the campaign with one goal in four games, and continued criticism for his international play.
2014 World Cup – Brazil
Once again, Ronaldo displayed his brilliance at the club level, having won another Ballon d’Or and his first Champions League title with Real Madrid. He even showed significant improvement from his last round of World Cup qualification, scoring eight goals during Portugal’s campaign, including four in a two-leg qualifying playoff game against Sweden. Unfortunately, it was more of the same luck for CR7 by the time the actual tournament came around. Portugal suffered a 4-0 defeat to Germany – the worst World Cup loss in the country’s history – while Ronaldo played all 90 minutes through a leg injury.
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He came back against the United States and assisted on the injury-time 2-2 equaliser. It wasn’t until a late winner against Ghana that he scored his first goal of the tournament in a 2-1 victory. Portugal ultimately did not advance out of the group stage due to goal difference. When asked if it was worth playing through an injury, and potentially risking his career, to participate in the World Cup, Ronaldo said, “If we had two or three Cristiano Ronaldos in the team I would feel more comfortable. But we don’t.”
2018 World Cup – Russia
Ronaldo announced his presence at the 2018 World Cup in the most Ronaldo way possible: a penalty. Seven minutes into Portugal’s opening match against Spain, the referee awarded a penalty to Portugal after Ronaldo appeared to get fouled inside the box. The Real Madrid star was as cool, calm and collective as ever and fired his shot past David De Gea for the opening goal of the game. Forty minutes later, he scored again when his shot bounced off De Gea and into the back of the net to put Portugal up 2-1. After a beautiful screamer from Nacho Monreal to put Spain up by one, Ronaldo had a chance to tie the game at the 88-minute mark with a free kick.
In this one game, Ronaldo matched his career World Cup goals total to prove to the world that he still has some magic left.
Portugal’s second game wasn’t quite the Ronaldo super show fans were expecting, but the forward still found his way onto the scoresheet. He scored the only goal of the game four minutes into the match in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Morocco. Ronaldo has scored more goals in these first two games than his last three World Cups combined.
Ronaldo had even less of an impact in the game against Iran, where Portugal’s lone goal was scored by Ricardo Queresma and Ronaldo missed a penalty opportunity. The 1-1 draw was enough to send the team to the Round of 16 to face Uruguay, however.
Unfortunately for Ronaldo, that round is where Ronaldo’s 2018 campaign came up short. Edinson Cavani fired two wonder strikes past Portuguese keeper Rui Patricio to cancel out defender Pepe’s second-half header to give Uruguay a 2-1 win. Ronaldo leaves Russia without any hardware.