Cristiano Ronaldo closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then made World Cup history.
The Portuguese striker became the first male player to score in five World Cups on Thursday with his 65th-minute penalty in a 3-2 win over Ghana.
Days after his contract endedafter a telling interview, he let his football do the talking at the start of probably his last World Cup.
“This was a beautiful moment,” said Ronaldo. “The world record, the only player to score in five World Cups, makes me very proud.”
Driving away after the ball hit the back of the net to put Portugal ahead 1-0, a smiling Ronaldo performed his usual jump and spin in the air — the crowd roared his signature ‘SI-UUU’ as he twirled — before being harassed by teammates.
He has now scored in every World Cup since his first in 2006, when a penalty against Iran kick-started his streak of goals in the tournament, which now stands at eight in 18 appearances. He has a men’s record of 118 international goals.
“I think Cristiano is a phenomenon, a legend,” said Portuguese coach Fernando Santos. “In 50 years we will continue to talk about him.”
His latest scoring record adds to the shine of a resume that should see Ronaldo receive plenty of offers from new clubs following his split from United on Tuesday. That came after he gave an unauthorized interview to Piers Morgan criticizing the manager, owners and his teammates at the English club.
His difficult run-up to the tournament did not seem to affect Ronaldo against Ghana, even though he missed two clear chances in the first half.
“It was a week where this chapter (with United) was closed,” said Ronaldo. “It’s closed and now I want to start with the good foot forward. We started, we won, I want to help my team and everything else doesn’t matter.”
Ronaldo ended the game with his head in his hands in sheer relief after Ghana nearly took a draw in the ninth minute of stoppage time thanks to a bit of ingenuity.
In the last play of the game, Ghanaian striker Inaki Williams hid behind Diogo Costa as the Portuguese goalkeeper rolled the ball on the ground and prepared to clear it. Williams dispossessed Costa and managed to poke the ball towards goal despite slipping.
Portugal defender Danilo rushed back and cleared the ball from close to the line as Ronaldo, who sat in the dugout after his substitution, watched in disbelief.
All the goals came in a wild last half hour, with Andre Ayew equalizing for Ghana eight minutes after Ronaldo converted his penalty after tumbling under a challenge from Mohammed Salisu.
Ghanaian coach Otto Addo called the penalty “a special gift from the referee”.
Joao Felix retook the lead for Portugal in the 78th minute on a through ball from Bruno Fernandes, who then set up Rafael Leao to add a third. Osman Bukari narrowed Ghana’s deficit in the 89th and comically celebrated by performing Ronaldo’s “SI-UUU” twirl.
None of the five African teams at the World Cup won their first group stage match. Ghana lost, as did Senegal and Cameroon, while Tunisia and Morocco drew. “They didn’t win, but I saw that they can compete with the opponent,” said Addo. “I hope we can improve.”
Inaki Williams made his first league start for Ghana, a day after his brother, Nico, came on as a substitute for Spain in a 7–0 win over Costa Rica. Inaki Williams moved this year from Spain to Ghana, the country where his parents were born and left decades ago when his mother was pregnant with him.
Portugal will play Uruguay on Monday. Ghana will face South Korea on the same day.