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The World Cup stage was set for a Cristiano Ronaldo Hero Moment, but it never happened


Cristiano Ronaldo was inconsolable. While the final whistle may have sounded on his World Cup career, tears streamed down the superstar’s face.

moroccan defender Ashraf Dari tried to put his arm around Ronaldo as he slowly made his way to the tunnel and the dressing room. But the 37-year-old Portuguese captain chased the 23-year-old away and kept walking.

Once in the tunnel, safe from the noisy Moroccan fans still cheering and celebrating, Ronaldo’s face creased and he pinched the bridge of his nose. The tears continued to flow. And the cameras caught them.

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Portugal striker #07 Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal at Al-Thumama stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022.
(Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Ronaldo, one of the greatest to ever play the game, will likely never win his most coveted trophy.

As NeymarI dream of winning this world Cup for his home country ended on Friday night, as did Ronaldo’s on Saturday. Among the legends of this tournament, only Lionel Messi continues to be hopeful after Argentina’s wild penalty shoot-out victory the night before.

Saturday was historic for Moroccowho became the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Portugal Saturday at the Al Thumama stadium.

Even so, Ronaldo hovered over everything.

The game started with a tense build-up. Moroccan fans outnumbered Portuguese fans by the thousands, and they whistled incessantly throughout the game – incredibly distracting sounds that were off the decibel charts.

After 42 minutes, the Atlas lions Mark. Leaving behind Yahia Attiyat Allah sent a perfect ball from the left side to the center of the box and Youssef En-Nesyri floated above the goalkeeper Diogo Costa tap the ball into the back of the net with his head.

Al Thumama was already deafening, and this moment blew up the eardrums. En-Nesryri had just scored the first World Cup knockout goal in Morocco’s history. At that time, Ronaldo was nowhere to be found, as the global superstar didn’t start that game.

It was the second game in a row that manager Fernando Santos deemed it wiser to bench Ronaldo, a move that received huge pre-game attention.

Tuesday victory Swiss had been the first World Cup match that Ronaldo had not started for his national team since 2006. The initial decision was heavily criticized, but Portugal won 6-1 and 21-year-old rising star Ronaldo replacement Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat trick. Santos said after that match that benching Ronaldo was tactical, not personal.

So, Santos did the same against a disciplined and emotional Moroccan side that were striving to make history. Was it the wrong decision this time? Even a FIFA official speaking with his colleague coming down the stadium stairs after the game casually said: “I can’t believe he had Ronaldo on the bench.” Response from his colleague: “Yes, but Morocco deserves it”.

Did Santos regret not starting Ronaldo?

“No,” the director said afterward. “I don’t think so. No regrets. No regrets. I think it was a team that played very well against Switzerland. Cristiano is a great player. He came when we thought it was necessary. So, no, I have no regrets.”

Portugal striker #07 Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after his team lost the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal at Al-Thumama stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022.

Portugal striker #07 Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after his team lost the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal at Al-Thumama stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022.
(Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

For a week, Ronaldo has played the role of a good soldier. It was reported earlier this week that he threatened to quit the national team and Qatar after Santos benched him, but Santos later clarified that those rumors weren’t true. And he doesn’t think the drama had an impact on the game.

“I think if we take two people who were the most upset about this game, maybe it was Cristiano Ronaldo and myself,” Santos said. “Of course we are upset. Of course it affects us. But that’s part of the game.”

Ronaldo stayed on the bench to start the second half. He walked through the tunnel after half-time, still wearing his yellow substitute apron, speaking with a team coach and a substitute goalkeeper. Rui Patricio with their hands covering their mouths, so people can’t read lips.

From the start of the half, Ronaldo began to warm up on the touchline. His eyes darted from Morocco shooting a free kick from end to end Atlas lions fanbase jumping up and down each other. He took a deep breath and continued to stretch.

In the 51st minute he was substituted in the game and the stadium erupted – it was louder then than any other time that night. Maybe even the Moroccan fans cheered. It was their last moment to see one of the greatest players of all time play in a World Cup, even if he was on the other team.

And the stage was set for a hero moment that saves the day.

It was as if, for a few minutes at least, Ronaldo’s presence on the pitch shook Portugal. His attack has become more intense and precise, and In Selacao had a chance. At one point, Portugal landed three consecutive corner kicks but couldn’t convert any.

Bruno Fernandes had a shot from the top of the box in the 64th minute that went slightly over the goal. The Portuguese midfielder then produced a superb cross that the goalkeeper Yassine Bounou caught before Ronaldo could pass him. In the 83rd minute, Félix fired a shot that would have gone home if Bounou hadn’t dived to save him.

The hero’s moment never came.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal leaves the pitch after the 0-1 loss during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Quarter-final match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal leaves the pitch after the 0-1 loss during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Quarter-final match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.
(Photo by David Ramos – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Morocco sat out in the second half, remained dangerous on the counterattack and Portugal couldn’t finish a single thing.

“Sometimes in football we have to be a bit lucky and that was not the case,” Santos said. “In our last game, we had a wonderful goal from a corner, but that didn’t happen this time. Also, we saw in injury time, we could see that our players were anxious.

“The reason we are upset is because we thought we could reach the final and win.”

Morocco tied Croatia in the group stage, then beat Belgium, Canada, Spain and now Portugal, while conceding just one goal.

The next stop for the team is England or France, a semi-final scheduled for Wednesday which will provide an unmissable theater (2 p.m. on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

We are becoming the team that everyone loves in this World Cup,” Moroccan coach Walid Regragui said. “I think we are the ‘Rocky’ of this World Cup.”

Even so, Ronaldo and his tears stole the show, one last time.

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Regragui was then asked if he was worried when Ronaldo was substituted in the second half.

“I know he can score out of nothing,” Regragui said.

This time however, he did not.

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