Cristiano Ronaldo was claiming the goal long after the final whistle and despite all available evidence to the contrary. The superstar without a club was denied, and denied another slice of Portuguese football history too, and may eventually have to accept his country’s serene progress into the last 16 of the World Cup was somewhat more important. Bruno Fernandes scored twice – despite Ronaldo’s protestations that he converted the first goal against Uruguay – to ensure Portugal joined Brazil and France as the only teams with a 100% start in the competition.
An eagerly-awaited clash of two talented and tempestuous heavyweights did not meet expectations but the repercussions could prove monumental for Uruguay. The South Americans must beat Ghana on Friday and hope Portugal do them a favour against South Korea to avoid an ignominious early exit. Ghana have waited 12 years for a chance to avenge their infamous defeat by the hand of Luis Suárez at the 2010 World Cup. How they would love to torment a Uruguay team that is yet to become the sum of its big name parts in Qatar.
“It is a crucial game but it has nothing to do with what happened 12 years ago,” insisted the Uruguay head coach Diego Alonso. “This is a different situation. We will bring all the weapons we have.” Alonso started with Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Bentancur, Darwin Núñez and Edinson Cavani. He introduced Suárez and Maxi Gómez, who both went close to equalising before Portugal were awarded a ridiculously harsh penalty in stoppage time.
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But they were second best throughout to a Portugal team that needed to be patient before finding holes in a resilient Uruguay defence in the second half. Uruguay committed the first foul inside 25 seconds and collected the first booking after six minutes, when Bentancur foolishly fouled Rúben Dias. But it did not develop into a simmering game of needle and gamesmanship, despite the presence of Pepe, Suárez and others. There was little sign of urgency from Uruguay either in the opening half an hour as they allowed Portugal to dominate possession without seriously troubling the goalkeeper Sergio Rochet. Cavani and Núñez were isolated until Bentancur brought belated positivity to Uruguay’s performance.
The Tottenham midfielder should have opened the scoring following a fine run from inside his own half that took him past William Carvalho and Dias. There was one job left to do but, as Diogo Costa advanced, he shot straight at the Portugal goalkeeper who saved with his thigh before gathering at the second attempt. The faces said everything. Bentancur looked to the sky and cursed his finish. Dias and Carvalho glared at each other over their lack of protection.
A lone and brave pitch invader ran onto the pitch early in the second half carrying a rainbow flag in protest at Qatar’s discriminatory laws. The protestor sported a Superman t-shirt that also had ‘Save Ukraine’ printed on the front and ‘Respect for Iranian Women’ on the back. He was wrestled to the ground by two security guards before others helped escort him away.
When the game restarted, Portugal seized control thanks to Fernandes’ beautiful cross from the left. Ronaldo read the Manchester United midfielder’s intention perfectly and, played onside by the right wing-back Guillermo Varela, soared to send a glancing header into the far corner. Or so everyone would have thought from Ronaldo’s celebrations. Replays showed he never made contact and Fernandes was rightly awarded the goal.
Ronaldo stared at a giant screen with a look of amusement and amazement as his ninth World Cup goal was chalked off. It would have taken him level with Eusébio’s World Cup goalscoring record for Portugal. His nine all came at the 1966 edition. “The most important thing is that we achieved our aim which is to be in the next round,” said Fernandes. “I celebrated as if it had been Cristiano’s goal. It seemed to me that he had touched the ball. My aim was to cross the ball for him.”
Uruguay responded well and were desperately unfortunate not to level when Gómez struck a post following a neat exchange on the edge of the Portugal penalty area. Costa was well beaten but saved by his left hand post. Suárez, who was arguing with the fourth official before setting foot on the pitch, was inches away from converting Giorgian de Arrascaeta’s free-kick at the near post. Their misfortune carried into stoppage time when Portugal were awarded a penalty after Fernandes had nut-megged José María Giménez on the edge of the area. The ball struck the defender’s trailing hand as he fell into the challenge and used his arm to support himself yet the Iranian referee was advised to check the pitch-side monitor.
He gave a most draconian penalty, sparking understandable fury among Uruguay’s players. Fernandes kept his cool and with a hop, skip and a jump, sent Rochet the wrong way from the spot. The United midfielder was denied a hat-trick by the legs of the Uruguay keeper and a post in the closing seconds. He then had to listen to Ronaldo, who would have taken the penalty had he not been substituted, harp on about the first goal glancing his hair. Ah well, onwards and upwards.