Despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s best efforts to claim it as his own, the goal – and the night – belonged to Bruno Fernandes
Portugal 2-0 Uruguay (Fernandes 54′, 90+3′ P)
It was music to the ears of Manchester United fans.
The man who went from zero to zero in Manchester, Cristiano Ronaldo, drove away in celebration and clinched the goal that put Portugal on their way to victory over Uruguay and a place in the last 16 of the World Cup with one group game remaining was his – just for the announcer who broke the hearts of the veteran’s Middle Eastern fanboys by declaring Bruno Fernandes the legitimate scorer.
Ronaldo didn’t celebrate the goal, he celebrated his Tor laughed sarcastically when he heard Fernandes’ name. Fernandes’ highest cross, however, was unshakeable. The goal and the night belonged to a player who was back at his best.
The Portuguese camp went out of their way to insist they all sing from the same anthem sheet and the cold shoulder Fernandes gave his decorated team-mate afterwards the Interview with Piers Morgan was a hilarious joke about Fernandes arriving in Qatar by boat. But we know what we’ve all seen.
United were quick to congratulate Fernandes on social media – every excuse to shoot at the now-exiled defector – with the fact that Ronaldo would have been even more seething that a late Fernandes penalty couldn’t have been as he had been substituted , gave everyone in Manchester more reasons to smile.
It was exactly what the player of the tournament deserved so far. Fernandes has been directly involved in eight goals in his last five games for Portugal, scoring five and providing three assists.
Such a form has also been replicated at United. It’s no coincidence that United’s mini revival this season has coincided with their talisman returning to its highest level. Carrying his club and country is exactly where Fernandes wants to be.
The whole atmosphere was odd in the suitably incongruous setting of Lusail – a city literally built from the ground up just to retain the opulent facade that is Qatar for the World Cup.
At the colossal Lusail Stadium there were many fans in Portugal red, but a rendition of “Cristiano Ronaldo” to the tune of Seven Nation Army told them they weren’t Portuguese.
The veteran job hunter’s name that was revealed in the lineup nearly lifted the ceiling. It seemed that 80 percent of those in attendance were there to see one man, and one man only.
Aside from a signature free-kick, which was distinctive in that it went straight into the wall, Ronaldo failed to beat a Uruguay side chasing a sixth consecutive World Cup record in the first half.
Another former United striker, Edinson Cavani, was included in the starting XI for Uruguay but was equally ineffective. In fact, the only real chance of the first half came from a confused run by Tottenham Hotspur’s Rodrigo Bentancur, but Diogo Costa made a clever save.
The problems with Qatar, which coaches and players would have liked to put behind them, are fortunately still being addressed by the braver souls, with a field interloper wearing a ‘Save Ukraine’ t-shirt and waving what at the start of the second half appeared to be a Pride flag before being wrestled to the ground.
Such a move seemed to create quite a dismal affair when a Fernandes cross, perfectly placed on Ronaldo’s head, missed the bottom corner despite his claims.
Three glorious chances came – substitute Luis Suarez fired from the side netting, Maxi Gomez slammed a shot off the post and Giorgian de Arrascaeta should have done better on a pass – and scored for Uruguay, who just aren’t thriving in Qatar.
Such a waste proved costly when Jose treated Gimenez in the penalty area after Fernandes put the ball through his legs and with Ronaldo on the bench – the steam could be seen pouring from his ears from the stands – Fernandes stroked the ball confidently home.
Fernandes drilled against the post as he came agonizingly close to a deserved hat-trick, but the cherry stayed in the fridge.
At the final whistle, Ronaldo could be seen again claiming the ball touched his forehead, saying he was the team player that he is. For Fernandes and Portugal it didn’t matter – they have another inspirational figure who can inspire them to do bigger and better things.