At the age of 37 and likely participating in his final World Cup, football’s most prolific scorer of the modern era might yet win the one major championship that has eluded him in a career unlike any other. However, as he left the field alone at Lusail Stadium, leaving the rest of the Portugal team to celebrate defeating Switzerland 6-1 to advance to the quarterfinals, it didn’t quite feel that way.
He set a record when the tournament began by becoming the first male player to score at five different World Cups, but he then underwhelmed, failing to score in back-to-back games and reacting angrily to a substitution against South Korea.
One of Portugal’s greatest victories, and the biggest margin of victory in a World Cup knockout game, left Ronaldo feeling like he couldn’t leave the field fast enough. The World Cup knockout stage hasn’t seen a hat-trick since Tomas Skuhravy’s hat-trick for Czechoslovakia in 1990, but they have now, and Benfica is likely to be busy fielding inquiries about a striker who has scored 21 goals for the team in 2022 and recently scored the first hat-trick in that stage since.
But the fact that Messi is using goals and incredible performances to push Argentina to the final frontier while Ronaldo is no longer the star player for his country may be weighing heavily on the Portugal superstar as he left the field at Lusail Stadium. Considering how well Portugal performed against Switzerland without Ronaldo, he might even be a burden.