Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit from Manchester United has been tumultuous, to say the least. World football’s all-time leading goal scorer left the club on November 22nd following the former Real Madrid man’s explosive interview with Piers Morgan in which he disrespected the club, its owners, its iconic players, and its current manager. Not only has the 37-year-old plunged Old Trafford under a cloud of controversy, but he has shone the spotlight on his national team for all the wrong reasons. Oddschecker, which compares World Cup odds and offers, has Portugal listed as the seventh favourites currently, but could a disaster be on the horizon in a difficult-looking group?
There are two Manchester United players remaining in Fernando Santos’ squad, namely Diego Dalot — who isn’t expected to start — and Bruno Fernandes, who most definitely is. Fernandes and Ronaldo shared a feisty-looking exchange when the pair were reunited in Qatar, although the current United man was keen to pour cold water over the incident when he spoke to the media a few days later.
It remains to be seen whether the pair will be on the same page or not throughout the tournament. On the one hand, CR7 is Portugal’s finest export and he is quite rightly an idol to anyone of Portuguese heritage. On the other hand, Fernandes’ loyalties quite clearly lie with Manchester United, so who knows if the pair can get along over the next month. Manager Santos will be keen to ensure that they do, to avoid a rift down the middle of his squad.
There can be no doubting the talent in the Portuguese ranks. Manchester City duo Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo are the standouts, but attackers Joao Felix and Rafael Leao — who has been on fire for AC Milan in the last 18 months — are also proven match winners. And Ronaldo will most definitely start, unlike his last six months at Old Trafford under Erik Ten Hag. The 191-time international remains captain of his national team and no matter how bad things get, that’s how he will remain until he chooses to hang up his boots.
Group H is the closest thing to a ‘group of death’
For many years, the ‘Group of Death’ was a staple at the FIFA World Cup. The phrase was coined by the English media in 2002 when England were drawn to face Argentina, Sweden, and Nigeria. In Germany four years later, Argentina once again found themselves in the dreaded group alongside the Netherlands, Ivory Coast, and Serbia & Montenegro.
The group was once again alive and well in 2010, when Brazil, Portugal, and the Ivory Coast battled it out for the top two spots, with North Korea making up the numbers. Then finally, in 2014, it was once again England who were drawn alongside Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. Under Roy Hodgson, you can imagine how that went.
In recent years, there hasn’t been a notable ‘group of death’ as such. The same can be said for this year however, if we were to pick one, it would probably be Group H, which contains Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana, and South Korea. Naturally one would expect the former pair to prevail over the latter. However the Black Stars have unfinished business with their South American counterparts, and Son Heung-Min can win a game of football on his own. With Portugal potentially in disarray, this group could be wide open. And as we have already seen in this World Cup, write off the underdogs at your peril.
Portugal’s path to the final
Should Portugal top Group H as the bookies predict, then their path to the final isn’t necessarily a simple one. In the second round, they may face Serbia. The Serbians famously defeated Fernando Santos’ side in Lisbon to secure their place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup courtesy of Aleksandr Mitrovic’s last-gasp winner. The 1-0 defeat consigned Portugal to the playoff lottery in which they eventually prevailed.
Should Ronaldo and co. pass that test, then Belgium or Germany may await in the quarter-finals. The Red Devils’ campaign got underway with a nervy victory against Canada in their opening game however Germany will finish as runners-up at best in their group following their opening-day defeat to Japan. Die Mannschaft however could be set for a second consecutive group-stage exit unless they defeat Costa Rica and get at least a point against Spain.
From there, any one of France, England or Argentina could await in the semifinals, with Brazil waiting in the final. So it’s safe to say that the entire Portuguese squad needs singing from the same hymn sheet if they are to progress to the tournament’s latter stages.
Ronaldo’s next club
Many United fans have now washed their hands of Cristiano Ronaldo following his acrimonious exit from the club. And that is understandable. But in the end, the 37-year-old will go down in history as one of the finest players — if not the finest — to ever pull on the famous red shirt.
The Portuguese icon netted a mammoth 145 goals in 346 appearances throughout his two spells with the club. He helped the club to Three consecutive Premier League titles between 2006 and 2009, as well as reaching back-to-back Champions League finals in 2008 and 2009, winning one of them. With that being said, it’s worth looking at where he may or may not be heading next.
The bookies have earmarked Chelsea and Sporting Lisbon, the club that gave him his break as a professional footballer, as the early favourites for his signature, and that would make sense, with both clubs being linked with him following his transfer request in the summer. A potential move to the MLS has also been touted, as well as a move to Newcastle United, who may look to CR7 in order to secure a place in the top four and next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Whichever club Ronaldo chooses, one thing is for certain… No player is bigger than Manchester United. And the world will go on at Old Trafford.