Led 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 (November 24). Ronaldo, Joao Félix and Rafael Leao scored for Portugal, while Andre Ayew and Osman Bukari scored for Ghana.
Portugal dominated proceedings in the opening exchanges, pushing their full-backs forward to overload the flanks. Portuguese pressure finally opened up the Ghanaian defense in the 10th minute, when Bernardo Silva released Ronaldo up the middle. The former Manchester United player, however, was unable to control the ball on his first touch, allowing the goalkeeper to make an excellent block.
Three minutes later, Raphael Guerreiro took an excellent corner from the left. Ronaldo, demonstrating his incomparable leap, fulfilled the delivery, but could not guide it on goal. In the 30th minute, Ronaldo found the back of the net magnificently, but the referee penalized the 37-year-old for committing a foul in preparation.
Portugal looked to close out the first half brilliantly, moving the ball considerably faster and piling more bodies forward. Ghana, however, held their ground and went into half-time unscathed.
Portugal had a livelier start to the second half and got the goal they were looking for in the 65th minute. Their extraordinary captain was brought down by Mohammed Salisu inside the box, and the referee without hesitation signaled the spot. With his usual confidence, the former Real Madrid player scored the goal and became the first player in history to score in five FIFA World Cups.
The Portuguese lead did not last long, however, as Ayew equalized for the underdogs just eight minutes later. Mohammed Kudus launched into the final third through the inside left channel and delivered a low cross to Ayew, who made no mistake in converting it from close range.
The 2016 European champions took the hit on the chin and immediately responded with two great goals. First, in the 78th minute, Felix found the back of the net with a clinical shot from the right side. A couple of minutes later, substitute Leao plowed past Ghanaian goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi from the left.
Ghana should have been down and out after the double whammy, but the Africans opted to give the Iberians a real scare in their 2022 FIFA World Cup debut. Abdul Rahman Baba saved a cross from the left in the 89th minute, who strayed on his way to Bukari. The substitute was not mistaken in punishing the keeper from close range.
The Black Stars kept the heavy hitters in check for the rest of the game, but just couldn’t find a way to get past. Here are three Portuguese players who played and two who disappointed against Ghana in their 2022 FIFA World Cup opener:
Performed: Joao Felix
Atlético Madrid star Joao Félix struggled to get into the game in the first half, and Ghana did everything they could to neutralize him. He improved considerably in the 45th second, linking up well with other Portuguese strikers and scoring a spectacular goal. Catching a pass from Bruno Fernandes down the right side, Félix cut inside and deflected the effort from him past Ati-Zigi.
Goal aside, the FIFA World Cup rookie won four games on the ground, delivered a precise long ball and committed three fouls. He also punted the ball once and attempted a tackle.
Low performance: Rubén Neves
Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Ruben Neves had a tough night against the Black Stars. He struggled to keep up with Kudus’ quick feet, rarely making advances in the final third and being weak in one-on-one duels.
Against Ghana, Neves lost five of six rushing games, lost possession five times, was dribbled three times and fouled twice.
Performed: Cristiano Ronaldo
Legendary Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo made history against Ghana. He not only became the first player to score in five World Cups, but also became the second-oldest goalscorer (37 years and 292 days) in World Cup history. Cameroonian legend Roger Milla is currently the oldest goalscorer in history (42 years 39 days).
Ronaldo’s historic goal came from the penalty spot in the 65th minute. He slipped his foot into the ball and gave Ati-Zigi no chance. Aside from his miss in the 10th minute, the Real Madrid legend played an admirable game.
Penalty aside, Ronaldo won three ground and two air duels; he committed three fouls and made a punt.
Underperforming: Joao Cancelo
Manchester City fullback Joao Cancelo can be a real problem in his day. Fortunately for Ghana, he was not at his best on Thursday. Cancelo had some of the blame for Ghana’s opening goal in the 73rd minute. He was embarrassingly out of position, allowing Kudus to burst into the Portugal box with virtually no opposition and set up Ayew.
Cancelo also did not create scoring chances, losing possession 15 times, losing two rushing games and missing a cross.
Performed: Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes was the best Portuguese player at Stadium 974 on Thursday night. His pass was spot on, he linked up superbly with his teammates and provided two good assists.
First, he passed the ball to Félix on the right in the 78th minute. The rojiblanco striker entered from the inside and applied a forceful shot. A couple of minutes later, he helped Leao with a perfectly weighted pass down the left channel.
In the Group H opener, Fernandes provided three key passes, created two great chances, delivered five accurate long balls and committed four fouls.
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