DOHA, Qatar — At the height of his powers, it was Cristiano Ronaldo’s part-vibe, part-message.
His “calma, eu estou aqui” boast (“Relax, I am here.”) from 2012 with Real Madrid would naturally become a meme. And all through the years, it normally labored out. It’s what he tried to channel when — six minutes into the second half of Sunday’s World Cup quarterfinal match in opposition to Morocco and with Portugal a aim down — coach Fernando Santos lastly despatched him on.
Even as the clock ticked away and the Moroccan roar grew louder at Al Thumama Stadium, even as Bruno Fernandes pulled his shirt in anger like he was about to Hulk-smash, even as Pepe waved his arms pleading with the referee, even as Joao Felix by his arms within the air, even as Portugal’s assaults descended into chaos, Ronaldo exuded an virtually Zen-like calm.
The probability — whether or not to arrange a teammate or to beat Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou — would come. It would movement his means and he would seize the second. Except, when it did, simply after the board lit up exhibiting eight minutes of harm time, his first-time contact was crisp, however not angled. And his shot was smothered by Bounou, and Morocco ran out the clock to win 1-0.
For a person who has been the focal point for the previous twenty years, his closing World Cup look was subdued. There was no screaming, no hysterics. There was, as an alternative, a relaxed, quiet professionalism, the one which, when you strip off the hype, underpinned a lot of his profession.
The sport wound down amidst the carnage of accidents and substitutions. As Santos despatched on increasingly attacking gamers, his present attackers needed to retreat: Fernandes ended up at right-back, Bernardo Silva at holding midfielder. But it is foolish to even discuss formations within the closing minutes of a World Cup knockout sport when one group has the lead.
The script is acquainted. Morocco retreated right into a dense pink mass enveloping Ronaldo, Ricardo Horta and Felix, with Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat, North Africa’s reply to Castor and Pollux (and shortly simply as legendary), doing all the things from patrolling the sting of the field to cueing the press after each clearance.
Craig Burley is filled with reward for Morocco’s efficiency and resilience after they turn out to be the primary African group to make it to a World Cup semifinal.
The sport modifications into one other sport. One group tries to punch, will and scrape the ball by a thicket of people into the online (in the event that they’re luck, there is a deflection or a referee’s whistle to assist). The different prays that every clearance results in a counterattack, typically a solo run by a lone ahead in opposition to a few defenders (one in all them the 40-year-old Pepe).
Amidst all this was Ronaldo. The calm could have been outward — from excessive within the media tribune you possibly can by no means make certain — perhaps contained in the dial was turned previous 11. But to his teammates and to these watching he appeared assured and prepared. He had been right here many instances. With 196 worldwide caps, practically a thousand video games at membership stage, finals, Ballons d’Or, league titles … he knew his teammates had been seeking to him even when his coach had not.
At least not in the beginning, not on this sport, not within the earlier sport. But this was nonetheless his second. All he needed to do was watch for the door to open and stroll by it. Except it by no means did. The closing probability fell to Pepe — an uncoordinated header skimmed large of the put up — not to him. And, identical to that, it was over.
The whistle went and he walked, gaze fastened forward in direction of the middle circle and the gamers tunnel, breaking stride simply twice. Once, when Achraf Dari, who had come instead of the injured Morocco defender Romain Saiss, intercepted him to console him and put his arm round him, which Ronaldo greeted with a nod and a half-smile. And once more when a pitch invader hurdled the perimeter and sprinted in direction of him, solely to be bear-hugged by an alert safety guard.
Ronaldo was swallowed up by the tunnel and was gone. Gone to ponder what might need been, had he performed from the primary minute. Gone to ponder how for much longer he needs to make this sport his life since, as anybody not residing underneath a rock is aware of, he’s now unattached at membership stage and free to affix no matter membership he needs (and needs to have him). In 1994, Cameroon’s Roger Milla scored his closing World Cup aim at 42 years of age which is older than Ronaldo will likely be in 2026. So yeah, by no means say by no means.
But within the surprisingly chilly air of the Al Thumamah, it felt as if the curtain had come down on his World Cup profession. Five World Cups, book-ended by Portugal’s greatest performances with him on board: the semifinals in 2006 and the quarterfinal now. Twenty-two appearances, eight targets scored, some regrets (none extra so than the thigh harm which slowed him in 2014) and several other massive moments (just like the penalty that despatched Portugal previous England and into the semifinal in 2006, following the famous “Rooney wink” and the heroic hat trick in opposition to Spain in 2018).
And, maybe, the sense of loss that the greats at all times have about themselves: that with fewer accidents and higher timing he might need achieved much more. It often is the closing World Cup chapter, however we’ve but to succeed in the top of the e book. We’ll see him once more, definitely at membership stage, most likely with Portugal. But 2022 will go down as Ronaldo’s annus horribilis. Good factor 2023 is simply three weeks away.