Teamwork makes the dream work

World Cup stage was set for a Cristiano Ronaldo hero second, nevertheless it by no means arrived

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DOHA, Qatar — Cristiano Ronaldo was inconsolable. As maybe the ultimate whistle blew on his World Cup profession, tears streamed down the famous person’s face.

Moroccan defender Achraf Dari tried to place his arm round Ronaldo as he slowly walked towards the tunnel and the locker room. However the 37-year-old Portuguese captain shooed away the 23-year-old and stored strolling.

As soon as within the tunnel, shielded from the raucous Moroccan followers nonetheless cheering and celebrating, Ronaldo’s face crinkled, and he pinched the bridge of his nostril. The tears stored coming. And the cameras caught them.

Emotional Cristiano Ronaldo leaves pitch

Cristiano Ronaldo heads to the locker room after Portugal was eradicated by Morocco within the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Ronaldo, one of many biggest to ever play the sport, will doubtless by no means win its most coveted trophy. 

Simply as Neymar‘s dream of successful this World Cup for his residence nation ended Friday evening, so too did Ronaldo’s on Saturday. Among the many legends on this event, solely Lionel Messi continues to have hope after a wild Argentina victory in penalty kicks the evening earlier than. 

Saturday was historic for Morocco, which turned the primary African workforce to make the World Cup semifinals with a 1-0 victory over Portugal on Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium. 

Even so, Ronaldo hovered over the whole lot.

The sport started with tense buildup. Moroccan followers outnumbered Portuguese followers by the hundreds, and so they whistled incessantly all through the sport — extremely distracting sounds that had been off the decibel charts. 

After 42 minutes, the Atlas Lions scored. Left again Yahia Attiyat Allah lofted an ideal ball from the left facet into the middle of the field and Youssef En-Nesyri floated above goalkeeper Diogo Costa to faucet the ball into the again of the online together with his head.

Al Thumama was already deafening, and this second blew out ear drums. En-Nesryri had simply scored the primary World Cup knockout spherical objective in Moroccan historical past. At that time, Ronaldo was nowhere to be discovered, as the worldwide famous person didn’t begin this match.

It was the second recreation in a row that supervisor Fernando Santos thought it wiser to place Ronaldo on the bench, a choice which acquired monumental consideration main into the sport. 

Tuesday’s win over Switzerland had been the primary World Cup recreation that Ronaldo didn’t begin for his nationwide workforce since 2006. The preliminary determination was met with fierce criticism, however Portugal received 6-1 and Ronaldo’s alternative, 21-year-old rising star Gonçalo Ramos, scored a hat trick. Santos mentioned after that recreation that benching Ronaldo was tactical and never private.

So, Santos did the identical factor towards a disciplined and emotional Moroccan workforce that was striving to make historical past. Was it the flawed determination this time? Even a FIFA official talking together with his colleague strolling down the stadium stairs after the match casually mentioned, “I am unable to consider he had Ronaldo on the bench.” His colleague’s response, “Sure, however Morocco deserves this.”

Did Santos remorse not beginning Ronaldo?

“No,” the supervisor mentioned afterward. “I do not suppose so. No regrets. No regrets. I believe this was a workforce which performed very nicely towards Switzerland. Cristiano is a good participant. He got here in once we thought that was obligatory. So, no, I’ve no regrets.”

For the previous week, Ronaldo performed the function of a very good soldier. There have been experiences earlier this week that he threatened to depart the nationwide workforce and Qatar after Santos benched him, however Santos later clarified these rumors weren’t true. And he does not suppose that drama impacted the sport.

“I believe if we take two those that had been probably the most upset about this recreation, maybe it was Cristiano Ronaldo and myself,” Santos mentioned. “In fact, we’re upset. In fact, that impacts us. However that is a part of the sport.”

Ronaldo remained on the bench to start out the second half. He walked down the tunnel after halftime nonetheless sporting his yellow substitution pinny, talking with a workforce coach and backup goalkeeper Rui Patricio with their palms masking their mouths, so folks could not learn lips. 

As quickly because the half started, Ronaldo began warming up on the sideline. His eyes darted from Morocco taking a free kick on one finish to the Atlas Lions fan base leaping up and down on the opposite. He took a deep breath and stored stretching.

Within the 51st minute, he was substituted into the match and the stadium erupted — it was louder in that second than throughout some other level of the evening. Even perhaps the Moroccan followers cheered. This was their final second to observe one of many biggest gamers of all time to play in a World Cup, even when he was on the opposite workforce.

And the stage was set for a saves-the-day hero second.

It felt like, no less than for a couple of minutes, Ronaldo’s on-field presence gave Portugal a jolt. Its assault turned extra intense and exact, and A Selacao had probabilities. At one level, Portugal had three straight nook kicks however could not convert any of them.

Bruno Fernandes had a shot from the highest of the field within the sixty fourth minute that went barely over the objective. The Portuguese midfielder later had an excellent cross that goalkeeper Yassine Bounou caught earlier than Ronaldo might head it previous him. Within the 83rd minute, Felix blasted a shot that will have gone in had Bounou not dived to put it aside.

The hero second by no means got here.

Cristiano Ronaldo got here THIS CLOSE to tying it

Cristiano Ronaldo had an incredible likelihood within the 90 + 1 minute to tie the sport for Portugal, however was stopped by a clutch save from Moroccan goalkeeper Bono.

Morocco sat again within the second half, stayed harmful on the counter-attack, and Portugal could not end a single factor.

“Generally in soccer, we have to have a little bit of luck and that was not the case,” Santos mentioned. “In our final recreation, we had an impressive objective on a nook, however that didn’t occur this time. Additionally, we noticed within the further time, we might see our gamers had been anxious.

“The explanation why we’re upset is as a result of we thought we might attain the finals and win.”

Morocco tied Croatia within the group stage, then beat Belgium, Canada, Spain and now Portugal, all whereas conceding just one objective. 

Up subsequent for the workforce is both England or France, a semifinal scheduled for Wednesday that can present must-watch theater (2 p.m. on FOX and the FOX Sports activities app).

“We’re turning into the workforce everybody loves on this World Cup,” Moroccan supervisor Walid Regragui mentioned. “I believe we are the ‘Rocky’ of this World Cup.”

Even so, Ronaldo and his tears stole the highlight, one final time. 

Regragui was requested afterward if he was apprehensive when Ronaldo was subbed on within the second half.

“I do know he can rating out of nothing,” Regragui mentioned.

This time although, he did not.

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Laken Litman covers school soccer, school basketball and soccer for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand wrote for Sports activities Illustrated, USA Right now and The Indianapolis Star. She is the writer of “Sturdy Like a Lady,” printed in spring 2022 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX. Comply with her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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