Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to score in five World Cups, but Portugal needed some late goals to salvage a nervous 3-2 win against Ghana on Thursday.
Just two days after his Manchester United contract was terminated by mutual consent, free agent Ronaldo converted a penalty to knock down a stubborn Ghanaian side in their Group H opener.
Ghana were furious at being awarded the 65th-minute penalty for Mohammed Salisu’s challenge on Ronaldo, but they hit back through Andre Ayew in the 73rd minute.
However, Joao Felix fired Portugal back forward and substitute Rafael Leao added a third, proving important as Osman Bukari scored a late consolation for Ghana, who missed a glorious chance to take a point through Inaki Williams.
Ronaldo was denied by Lawrence Ati-Zigi after a heavy first touch and headed wide from the best of Portugal’s limited first-half chances before a goal was disallowed for a foul.
Alidu Seidu was lucky enough not to be booked until the beginning of the second half for a header by Joao Felix, but Ghana were less fortunate when Portugal were awarded a penalty.
Salisu was penalized for challenging Ronaldo despite appearing to touch the ball in front of the player, and the superstar striker made no mistake from the spot.
That sparked some life in Ghana and Ayew sent home an equalizer after Mohammed Kudus pulled the ball back into his path, but Portugal’s own response was equally swift.
Joao Felix raced on Bruno Fernandes’ through ball and thought over Ati-Zigi before Leao – just 45 seconds on the field – reeled in a glorious third for Fernando Santos’ side.
Introducing himself from the bench, Bukari headed in from a cross from Baba Rahman to ensure a tense finish and Williams nearly equalized as he took the ball off the feet of an oblivious Costa before slipping at the crucial moment.
What does it mean? Ronaldo helps underperforming Portugal get the job done
Ronaldo kept himself in the headlines with his breakthrough goal, but Portugal also needed fellow forwards Joao Felix and Leao to perform at Stadium 974.
Santos will not be happy with his side’s underperformance, even though they finished with an expected goal count (xG) of 1.92 compared to Ghana’s 0.80.
After shock losses to Argentina and Germany, Portugal finally got the job done to top Group H ahead of South Korea and Uruguay, who previously drew 0-0.
CR7 writes history
Ronaldo’s goal will ensure that his name will forever remain in World Cup folklore as the first – and possibly only for a while – player to score in five separate tournaments.
As a sign of his longevity, the 37-year-old is both Portugal’s youngest and oldest goalscorer at the World Cup, having scored his first goal against Iran in 2006 at the age of 21 years and 132 days.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 24, 2022
Ghana needs time to get going
Ghana became the second team in World Cup history to fail to get a shot or a touch into the opposing team’s penalty area in the first half of a match since records began in 1966.
Their first shot didn’t come until the 54th minute, but they came alive in the last quarter of the game with a pair of goals, the last of which Bukari celebrated by celebrating Ronaldo’s ‘Siu’.
Key Opta Facts
– Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo has become the first player to score in five different editions of the World Cup (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022).
– Portugal has won the opening game of a World Cup final for the first time in four attempts (D2 L1). In addition, Portugal’s victory marked their fifth consecutive match without defeat against African sides at the World Cup (W4 D1).
– Ghana are winless in their last five games at the World Cup (D2 L3), while the Black Stars have lost three of their four opening games at the tournament (W1).
– Ghana became the third African side to score in six consecutive World Cup matches in the competition, after South Africa (6 between 1998 and 2010) and Nigeria (8 between 1994 and 1998).
Portugal will play against Uruguay on Monday, while Ghana will play against South Korea in the second round of Group H the same day.