What will happen to Ronaldo’s career after Portugal’s exit from the World Cup?

Cristiano Ronaldo’s career with Portugal hangs in the balance after the team’s crushing loss 1-0 against Morocco in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Ronaldo, 37, has never won the tournament and likely won’t track Morocco’s stunning historic upset of Portugal on Saturday night in Qatar.

As Morocco’s bench stormed the field in jubilation, setting the Thumama stadium on fire and setting off celebrations across Africa and the Arab world, cameras quickly panned to the Portugal captain.

The contrast was, by comparison, startling.

Ronaldo quickly walked off the field, giving one last stoic look at the crowd before putting his hand to his face in utter disappointment.

Notably, he walked off the field unaccompanied by his team-mates, apparently sobbing, as he strode past reporters, photographers and FIFA staff towards the Portuguese dressing room. He was almost completely alone.

Ronaldo has not yet commented on his future.

If Qatar is indeed the end, it will be a bittersweet end to the Portuguese player’s legendary career.

Ronaldo’s biggest moment in the tournament – when he became the only player in history to score a goal in five separate World Cups – will surely be remembered for generations.

Ronaldo holds the world record as the all-time leading scorer in international play, with 118 international goals in 196 matches. He is also a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, has won four European Golden Shoes and has seven league titles under his belt.

In October, he scored the 700th goal in his football career for Manchester United.

Cristiano Ronaldo on the Portuguese bench during Portugal’s match with Morocco at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022 [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

But the 2022 World Cup was certainly full of ups and downs.

Notably, Ronaldo was off the bench for Portugal’s 6-1 first-round knockout demolition of Switzerland – for the first time since 2008 – after he reacted angrily to being substituted against South Korea in the team’s final match. Reports later circulated that he had threatened to quit the Portuguese squad amid their World Cup run. Portugal denied those reports.

Ronaldo was again relegated to the bench on Saturday by coach Fernando Santos, who gave his replacement, Goncalo Ramos, the nod after scoring a hat-trick in the match against Switzerland.

“I have no regrets,” Santos said of his decision not to start the captaincy for the second consecutive game.

“Cristiano is a great player, he came when we thought it was necessary. We have no regrets.”

Ronaldo didn’t rush onto the pitch until the 51st minute, and when he did burst onto the field, he swapped the captain’s armband with veteran defender Pepe before turning his attention to his remaining teammates, whom he furiously urged to press.

His late game appearance was met with a resounding chorus of jeers at El Thumama Stadium, with Morocco’s fans vastly outnumbering Portugal’s. As the final whistle approached, Ronaldo threw his arms in front of the Portugal fans, in a last-ditch effort to stir up the crowd.

He almost had a chance to score in the 82nd minute, setting up his colleague Joao Felix, whose shot was saved by the Morocco goalkeeper. In the end, Ronaldo and the team were unable to repair the damage done to Moroccan Youssef En-Nesiri, whose winning header in the 42nd minute was enough to move the Atlas Lions into the World Cup semi-finals.

As Ronaldo broke into tears for the dressing rooms, his teammates, still paralyzed by the loss, stayed on the field to react and thank the Portugal fans.

Javier Martinez, the former Spain national team player, said that he did not believe that Ronaldo would continue with the national team, adding that he understood the reaction of the Portuguese star.

“It was probably the last chance he had to win a World Cup,” Martinez told Al Jazeera. “A player like him deserved the World Cup and he’s very disappointed.”

Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Ghana in the 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 24
Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Ghana in the 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 24, making him the only player in history to score in five World Cup finals. [Reuters/Hannah Mckay]

Portugal, who beat Ghana and beat Uruguay before being beaten 2-1 by South Korea in the group stage, have not progressed beyond the last 16 since finishing fourth at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Seleção das Quinas finished third in 1966. The team has never won a World Cup.

Ronaldo, who exited Qatar without scoring in the knockout round, will now return to the club’s uncertain future.

Days after the tournament, Ronaldo was dropped by Manchester United “with immediate effect” after he gave an explosive interview on the eve of the World Cup, in which he harshly criticized coach Erik ten Hag.

Ronaldo has survived his fair share of controversies on and off the field over the past two decades, but he may now be entering the most difficult phase of his career.

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