Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup desire with Portugal leaves Man Utd decision open to change

Cristiano Ronaldo is only missing a World Cup winner’s medal from his glittering collection of awards but needs Portugal to beat Turkey and then either Italy or North Macedonia to fill that hole

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Cristiano Ronaldo is in the stage of his career where retirement is on the horizon

It was January, when receiving a special achievement award from FIFA of the type which usually marks a gracious exit from the frontline, that Cristiano Ronaldo said he wanted to play on “for four or five more years”.

Even at 36, as he was then, it was significant it drew no gasps from the assembled audience or those who watched later, just a casual acceptance that with Ronaldo normal rules do not apply. Yet on Thursday night when Portugal play Turkey in the first stage World Cup play off a finish line of sorts looks in sight with the chance to reach what will surely be his final shot at the biggest trophy of all on the line.

While a retirement plan as laid out that night could take in the next European Championship in 2024 in Germany – a trophy he has already lifted back in 2016 – with the World Cup, the one omission on an otherwise flawless CV, the time looks now or never. By the time United States, Mexico and Canada are joint hosts in 2026, Ronaldo will be 41 which, even by his remarkable standards, has to be a tournament too far.

Portugal face Turkey in the Estadio do Dragao in Porto in a semi-final play off match that they should win. Victory would set up a second hurdle before Qatar in the shape of North Macedonia or, more likely, European Champions Italy next Tuesday. The stakes could not be higher not least for Ronaldo’s international future given the likely clamour for a changing of the guard, new manager and new blood, in the event of failure.

Should that scenario transpire the follow up question is what that would mean for Ronaldo at club level as well? Now 37, he is contracted until summer 2023 at Manchester United with the option for a further year after that but is said to be less than enamoured at the possibility of playing Europa League football next season.

If he wants to go out at the top and on his own terms – both achievable now – he has too much pride to risk going down the slope for a fall at another’s hand. And he is at the summit.

Cristiano Ronaldo only has one realistic shot left at winning a World Cup – but Portugal have to beat Turkey first


Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Do you think Cristiano Ronaldo will ever win a World Cup? Have your say here

An international goalscoring record (115 in 184 games before tonight) remains head and shoulders clear of all opposition. His longevity has never in question having played for Portugal since 2003 and at more European Championships (five) and scored more there (14) than any other player.

He has five Champions League trophies, seven league titles, six domestic cups and five Ballon D’Or’s – in short a record that is untouchable without any further embellishment. Back on that day in January when receiving his award, Ronaldo said: “I still have the passion for the game and to score goals. I keep working hard and I love the game. I want to continue. I hope to play maybe four or five years, It is all mental. If you treat your body good, when you need it, it will give back.”

Portugal need another downpayment on a World Cup place and it would be not in the least surprising if Ronaldo delivered once again. If not, the question are are at the end for the greatest of all time can be asked again.

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