As the Real Madrid star sets his sights on competing in a fourth World Cup, Goal takes a look back at his previous involvement
Without doubt one of the greatest footballers of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo has won nearly everything there is to win in the game.
At club level the Portuguese has amassed four Champions League titles, three Premier Leagues, two La Liga crowns and more during his time with Manchester United and Real Madrid.
He has been integral to the success of those clubs, something that is reflected in the fact that he has scooped five Ballons d’Or, but he has also been a star at international level.
Having made his debut for Portugal in 2003, Ronaldo is now his country’s record-holder for both goals and appearances, as well as their captain and leader.
They were crowned European champions in 2016, but the World Cup has eluded Ronaldo and the Seleccao on the three occasions he has been involved.
As the Real Madrid star prepares another bid for world glory with his country in Russia, Goal takes a look back at his legacy in the tournament thus far.
Ronaldo made his World Cup debut in 2006 – at the age of 21 – when the tournament was held in Germany and he formed a crucial part of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team alongside the likes of Luis Figo, Simao, Deco and Pauleta.
By that time, Ronaldo was firmly established as one of the most exciting young players in the world, making his mark in the Premier League with Manchester United, and the 2006 World Cup was another step on his journey to the top of the game. Wearing the number 17 jersey due to the seniority of Portugal’s number 7 Figo, Ronaldo played in six games as his country reached the semi-finals, ultimately finishing fourth.
His first ever game at a World Cup came in the 1-0 group-stage win over Angola in Cologne and it was an unremarkable display as he picked up a yellow card before being taken off after the hour mark. Ronaldo’s first goal at the tournament came in the second game against Iran as he scored a penalty – stepping up to the mark ahead of Figo – in a 2-0 win in Frankfurt.
Scolari opted to rest the Man United forward in the final group game against Mexico, which Portugal won 2-1, but he was back in the starting XI for the last-16 clash against the Netherlands. Unfortunately for Ronaldo, however, his involvement in that game – later dubbed ‘The Battle of Nuremburg’ – was cut short as he was forced off with an injury after a reckless challenge from Khalid Boulahrouz on the 34th minute. The Selecao held on to win in Ronaldo’s absence, beating the Oranje 1-0 to set up a quarter-final clash against England.
The game against the Three Lions was a tempestuous affair and Ronaldo became ‘public enemy number one’ for his role in the demise of Sven Goran Eriksson’s side. Not only was the Man United man to the fore in the events that led to the sending off of his club-mate Wayne Rooney, who had stamped Ricardo Carvalho, he then went on to score the winning spot-kick in the penalty shootout.
“[Rooney] wasn’t angry with me,” Ronaldo insisted afterwards. “And, moreover, he told me to completely ignore what the English press has said, that all they wanted was to create confusion, but we are already used to that.”
After beating England, Portugal were paired with France in the semi-final and that proved to be the end of their World Cup hopes as Zinedine Zidane’s penalty in the 33rd minute gave Les Bleus the victory. As losing semi-finalists they were subsequntly penned in for the third-place play-off against tournament hosts Germany, but they were well beaten by Jugen Klinsmann’s side, who won 3-1. Ronaldo was notably jeered by sections of the crowd during the game in Stuttgart, as he had been in the game against France, something he has become accustomed to in the years that have followed.
South Africa 2010
Four years after his World Cup breakthrough in Germany, a 25-year-old Ronaldo arrived in South Africa in 2010 as the world’s most expensive player – having signed for Real Madrid for €94 million – a Ballon d’Or winner and Portugal’s captain. However, despite his success at club level, he was enduring some difficulty on the international stage and had gone through a rare barren spell, failing to score a single goal in qualification for the World Cup.
With stalwarts such as Pauleta, Deco and Figo moving off the stage, Ronaldo assumed much greater responsibility at the head of the Selecao attack, but he was unable to influence things in his side’s favour in 2010. Portugal qualified from a group containing Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea, but they were only able to score against North Korea, beating the Asian side 7-0, with Ronaldo finding the net once – remarkably his first international goal in 16 months.
Even though they emerged from Group G unbeaten, the performances of Carlos Queiroz’s side left much to be desired and the team came in for criticism from their national media. However, things got worse when they were paired with Iberian rivals – and eventual champions – Spain in the round of 16. Vicente del Bosque’s La Roja were reigning European champions and among the favourites to win the tournament, so presented a stern task for the Portuguese.
Ronaldo started the game on the left flank, finding himself up against team-mate Sergio Ramos, but he was unable to find a way through as Spain dominated possession. The deadlock was eventually broken after the hour mark as Xavi scored and it proved to be the decisive moment of the game. Portugal enjoyed just 39 per cent possession in Cape Town and managed three shots on target compared to Spain’s 10, while a red card to Ricardo Costa in the dying moments simply compounded their disappointment.
Afterwards, Ronaldo admitted that the manner of the defeat – and exit from the tournament – left him feeling “an unimaginable sadness”. In the aftermath, when asked to explain why Portugal failed the captain suggested that the reporter should ask Queiroz, something that prompted further criticism of the Real Madrid man. The Selecao boss later responded with a pointed comment, telling AFP that. “Portugal needs Ronaldo, and Ronaldo needs the national side. But if this shirt [the Portuguese strip] unnerves some players, they have no grounds to be there.”
In the end, the 2010 World Cup stood in stark contrast to Ronaldo’s experience at his first tournament in 2006. With just one goal – an 87th-minute strike in a 7-0 win over minnows North Korea – in four games and enduring a barrage of criticism, it was arguably the lowest ebb of his international career.
Portugal’s route to the 2014 World Cup involved a play-off against Sweden, in which Ronaldo scored four goals across the two legs, including a hat-trick in the second leg in Solna. Then 29, Ronaldo arrived in Brazil as the reigning Ballon d’Or holder and a Champions League winner with Madrid. He was at the top of his game, but, much to his chagrin, international tournament heart-ache continued.
Ronaldo’s fitness was a persistent concern ahead of the tournament and he was forced to sit out training on a number of occasions due to niggling knee injuries. Nevertheless, even though he was clearly not at 100 per cent, he somehow managed to play every minute of their three group stage matches.
When the Real Madrid man was passed fit to play in the opening game against Germany there was an understandable sense of optimism in the Portuguese camp, but the game in Salvador turned out to be a total disaster as Pepe was sent off in the first-half and Joachim Low’s men won 4-0 – the worst ever World Cup defeat experienced by Portugal.
The next game against the United States gave Portugal a chance to redeem themselves, but they struggled against Klinsmann’s men and needed a 95th minute equaliser to clinch a point. Having gone ahead through Nani, the Selecao found themselves trailing in the second half as Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey struck to give the USMNT the lead with 10 minutes left to play. It looked like Portugal were on their way home, but Ronaldo’s cross in stoppage time found Silvestre Varela, who scored to keep their hopes alive, if only just.
They needed to win against Ghana in the final game and hope for a favourable result in the Germany – USA match in order to qualify for the knock-out stage. Things were looking good when Portugal went ahead on the half-hour mark, but the Black Stars responded in the second half with Asamoah Gyan heading home.
Ronaldo had been to the fore for his country during the game, hitting the cross-bar before seeing a header saved and he eventually found the back of the net with just 10 minutes to go. The goal – which made him the first Portuguese player to score at three World Cups – was not enough to see them through though and they went home from Brazil after just three games.
Ronaldo’s overall World Cup record
Brazil 2014 was Ronaldo’s third time playing at a World Cup and he brought his number of appearances in the tournament to 13 in that edition.
He has scored just three times in those 13 appearances – once in 2006, once in 2010 and once in 2014 – which is a dismal return for a man who has broken record after record with his goals at club level and indeed for his country.
In his 13 games, the forward has been on the winning side five times (four of those coming at the 2006 tournament) losing four and drawing four. He has been shown two yellow cards.
The 2018 tournament in Russia looks like it will be Ronaldo’s last shot at winning world glory with his country and, having won the European Championship in 2016, he will be keen to add the top prize in the game to his trophy haul.