Spearheaded by the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal opened their 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 3-2 win against Group H rivals Ghana at Stadium 974 on Thursday (24 November). Ronaldo, Joao Felix, and Rafael Leao scored for Portugal while Andre Ayew and Osman Bukari netted for Ghana
Portugal dominated proceedings in the opening exchanges, pushing their fullbacks forward to overload the flanks. The Portuguese pressure eventually unlocked the Ghanaian defense in the 10th minute, when Bernardo Silva released Ronaldo through the middle. The former Manchester United man, however, failed to bring the ball under control with his first touch, which allowed the keeper to make an excellent block.
Three minutes later, Raphael Guerreiro floated an excellent corner from the left. Ronaldo, demonstrating his unmatched leap, met the delivery, but could not guide it on target. In the 30th minute, Ronaldo superbly found the back of the net, but the referee penalized the 37-year-old for committing a foul in the build-up.
Portugal looked to close the first half brightly, moving the ball around considerably quicker and piling more bodies forward. Ghana, however, held firm and went into the break unscathed.
Portugal had a more lively start to the second half and got the goal they were looking for in the 65th minute. Their captain extraordinaire was brought down by Mohammed Salisu inside the box, and the referee unhesitantly pointed to the spot. Confident as ever, the former Real Madrid man hit the back of the net, becoming the first-ever player to score in five FIFA World Cups.
The Portuguese lead did not last for long, however, with Ayew equalizing for the underdogs just eight minutes later. Mohammed Kudus dashed into the final third through the left-inside channel and delivered a low cross for Ayew, who made no mistake turning it in from close range.
The 2016 European champions took the blow on their chin and immediately responded with two great goals. First, in the 78th minute, Felix found the back of the net through a clinical strike from the right side. A couple of minutes later, substitute Leao beat Ghanian shot-stopper Lawrence Ati-Zigi from the left.
Ghana should have been down and out after the double whammy, but the Africans chose to give the Iberians a real scare in their 2022 FIFA World Cup opener. Abdul Rahman Baba lifted a cross from the left in the 89th minute, which took a deflection on its way to Bukari. The substitute made no mistake punishing the keeper from close range.
The Black Stars kept the heavyweights under the cosh for the remainder of the game but just could not find a way through. Here are three Portuguese players who performed and two who disappointed against Ghana in their 2022 FIFA World Cup curtain-raiser:
Performed: Joao Felix
Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix struggled to get into the game in the first half, with Ghana doing everything in their power to neutralize him. He improved considerably in the second 45, linking up well with other Portuguese forwards and scoring a stunning goal. Receiving a pass from Bruno Fernandes on the right side, Felix cut inside and sidefooted his effort past Ati-Zigi.
The goal aside, the FIFA World Cup debutant won four ground duels, delivered an accurate long ball, and drew three fouls. He also cleared the ball once and attempted a tackle.
Underperformed: Ruben Neves
Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Ruben Neves endured a difficult evening against the Black Stars. He struggled to keep up with Kudus’ quick feet, rarely made inroads in the final third, and was weak in one-on-one duels.
Against Ghana, Neves lost five of six ground duels, lost possession five times, was dribbled past thrice, and committed two fouls.
Performed: Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal’s legendary forward Cristiano Ronaldo made history against Ghana. Not only did he become the first-ever player to score in five World Cups, but he also became the second-oldest goalscorer (37 years 292 days) in World Cup history. Cameroonian legend Roger Milla is currently the oldest goalscorer in history (42 years 39 days).
Ronaldo’s history-making goal came from the penalty spot in the 65th minute. He put his foot through the ball, giving Ati-Zigi no chance whatsoever. Apart from his miss in the 10th minute, the Real Madrid legend had an admirable game.
The penalty aside, Ronaldo won three ground duels and two aerial duels; drew three fouls, and performed a clearance.
Underperformed: Joao Cancelo
Manchester City fullback Joao Cancelo can be a real handful on his day. Luckily for Ghana, he was not at his brilliant best on Thursday. Cancelo was partially at fault for Ghana’s opener in the 73rd minute. He was embarrassingly out of position, which allowed Kudus to barge into Portugal’s box practically unchallenged and set up Ayew.
Cancelo also did not create any goalscoring opportunities, lost possession 15 times, lost two ground duels, and misplaced a cross.
Performed: Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes was the best Portuguese player at Stadium 974 on Thursday night. His passing was on point, he linked up superbly with teammates, and provided two fine assists.
First, he played the ball through to Felix down the right-hand side in the 78th minute. The Atletico forward came inside and applied an emphatic finish. A couple of minutes later, he assisted Leao with a perfectly-weighted pass down the left-hand channel.
In the Group H opener, Fernandes provided three key passes, created two big chances, delivered five accurate long balls, and drew four fouls.