SPORTS Fernandes steals Ronaldo's limelight as World Cup runs riot with historic goalfest thrillers


Fernandes steals Ronaldo's limelight as World Cup runs riot with historic goalfest thrillers


13:57, November 29, 2022

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (#7) celebrates with his teammate Bruno Fernandes after the first goal during their World Cup clash with Uruguay at Lusail Stadium in Lusail City, Qatar, November 28, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

Just 48 hours after Lionel Messi sent 88,966 fans at the Lusail stadium into ecstasy with a footballing masterclass, another big name did exactly the same at the same venue.

He waltzed through the fiery contest at will, dictated the tempo with his dazzling ability to read the game. His mere presence on the pitch is so overwhelming that some supporters even bowed to him as if he were a god.

Just to clear up any confusion for those who didn't bother to watch Portugal's World Cup encounter with Uruguay, we are not talking about Cristiano Ronaldo. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was subdued throughout the tie, though he still insisted he had scored the opener long after the final whistle.

When Bruno Fernandes clipped a brilliant cross from the left before the hour mark, Ronaldo soared to attempt a glancing header. After the ball crept into the far corner, the 37-year-old superstar wheeled away to celebrate what would have been his ninth World Cup goal. However, a series of replays showed that he didn't made a clean contact with the ball and Fernandes was awarded the goal.

The Manchester United playmaker then killed the game with a well-taken penalty after a controversial video assistant referee intervention which adjudged Jose Gimenez's trailing hand touched the ball. He even went close to a well-deserved hat-trick but saw a low shot unfortunately bounced wide off a post.

To his credit, Fernandes was not just the two-goal hero to send Portugal into the knockout stages with one game to spare, he was the architect of his team's every meaningful attacking move.

After racking up two assists to help Portugal outclass Ghana in the opening fixture, he once again offered persistent influence against a tough Uruguayan side, who pulled out all the stops to disrupt the game at every opportunity with late challenges and cynical fouls.

Despite providing the most eye-catching moments of the hard-fought clash, Fernandes remained humble, focused and hungry to continue the journey of success. "We are happy with the victory regardless of who scored the first goal," he beamed. "I celebrated as if it had been Cristiano's goal. My aim was to cross the ball for him... The most important thing is that we achieved our aim which is to be in the next round."

Portugal coach Fernando Santos echoed the anticipation, adding, "It was a well-deserved victory. The first part is over, we are in a hurry. Now I will continue to work to improve what needs to improve. The team deserved it, they were solid and very strong both in the quality of the game and the bond between them."

Before the World Cup kicked off, Santos has received plenty of brickbats for his conservative approach and dull coaching style but the 68-year-old tactician deserves huge credit for finding a balanced way to bring out the best in Fernandes and play down the off-pitch histrionics from Ronaldo.

It's worth noting that for second game in a row, Santos took the bold decision to take off Ronaldo, and Portugal duly improved and offered more energetic display and aggressiveness up front led by none other than Fernandes. Whisper it quietly, we are finally witnessing a changing of the guard at Portugal.

Earlier in the day, an otherwise tedious encounter without the injured Neymar was brought to life after Casemiro netted a wonder goal against Switzerland as five-time champions Brazil also secured their place in the World Cup last 16.

But the real deal was the opening two fixtures of the day which dished out 11 goals and wildly entertaining attacking football. First, Cameroon fought back from two goals down to earn a 3-3 draw with Serbia, Ghana then followed the pattern by edging South Korea 3-2 to keep alive their hopes of reaching the next round.

According to stats provider Opta, it was the first day with multiple five-goal games at the World Cup since 1990, when Czechoslovakia thrashed the USA 5-1 and West Germany swatted aside Yugoslavia 4-1 on June 10.

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