FIFA World Cup 2022: Spotlight on Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar as Portugal and Brazil begin campaigns
Two celebrated superstars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, will begin their campaigns in Qatar on Thursday. Ronaldo's Portugal will take on Ghana while Neymar's Brazil are up against Serbia in their FIFA World Cup 2022 openers.
- Cristiano Ronaldo begins his quest for World Cup glory with Portugal
- Neymar's Brazil will face Serbia in their opening match
- All eyes on Ronaldo after Manchester United controversy dominates headlines
By India Today Web Desk: On the last matchday of the first round of fixtures at FIFA World Cup 2022, two of the most-talked-about stars will be in action - Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar as Portugal and Brazil will open their campaigns in Qatar. Portugal take on Ghana in their Group H opener at Stadium 974 while Brazil take on a tricky Serbian side in their Group G opener at the Lusail Stadium on Thursday, November 24.
The spotlight will firmly be on Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portugal captain is heading into his fifth World Cup appearance on the back of a stormy few weeks. Ronaldo, who had a fairytale return to Manchester United last season, has mutually parted ways with the Premier League giants. The manner in which Ronaldo exited Man United dominated headlines across the football world with the Portugal star slamming the club and its manager Erik ten Hag and its owners, Glazers.
Ronaldo said he was betrayed by Manchester United and that he did not get any respect from ten Hag and that the owners don't care about the well-being of the club and its status as a European powerhouse. Plenty was spoken in the aftermath of the explosive interview to Piers Morgan and Ronaldo's contract was terminated by mutual agreement a day after he landed in Qatar.
There was speculation about a rift in the Portugal locker room after a video of a frosty handshake between Ronaldo and his former Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes went viral. However, both players denied the rumours of a rift.
The focus will be on World Cup football, finally, when Ronaldo steps out to lead Portugal against Ghana. It remains to be seen if the Manchester United row would have an impact on how Ronaldo fares in Qatar. While the Portugal star, who won the Euro 2016 title, needs no motivation in what is likely to be his last World Cup appearance, the very fact that he is out in the market again will push him to do well and attract the big names in club football.
Ronaldo has stressed that the United saga has nothing to do with his preparation for the World Cup and the mood in the Portugal camp is as upbeat as it can be. And Bruno Fernandes, the lynchpin of Portugal's midfield engine, also agreed.
“Our focus is 100% on the national team and we are 100% focused on what we have to do,” Fernandes said on the eve of their opener against Ghana.
However, lack of game time can hurt Ronaldo, who was not a first-choice starter for Erik ten Hag since the start of the new season at Manchester United.
Despite the absence of Diego Jota, Portugal have arrived with one of the finest squads under Fernando Santos, who wants to make it count in Qatar. However, there are concerns over Ronaldo's form and Pepe's ability with the spotlight on the two aging players, considering the pace with which Ghana can surprise in Qatar.
NEYMAR FIRED-UP FOR QATAR 2022
On the other hand, Neymar would want to make the best use of his stellar form in Paris and lead a Brazil team that has come in with a lot of expectations. 4 years ago, Tite's men were a team in transition but Brazil have headed to Qatar with a lot more assurance in the form of established stars with the dream of winning a record-extending 6th World Cup crown.
The fire, it seems, is burning bright in Neymar's belly. After arriving in Qatar, Neymar came up with a social media post with a sixth star photoshopped onto his shorts around Brazil's logo.
"This is our dream," Brazil forward Richarlison said.
"Neymar posted that photo because it's his dream, too. He wants to win that and we know how willing he is to win that. He can do whatever he wants. It's his dream. If Neymar is happy here, we will be happy. That's the most important thing."
Brazil have been unbeaten since losing the Copa America final last year and the Selecao were also unbeaten in the qualifiers, pumping in 45 goals.
Brazil have a forward line that is envious and scary. It was a selection headache for Tite as he had leave out an in-form Gabriel Jesus. Raphinha, Antony, Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo and Gabriel Martinelli along with Neymar add some pace and quality to the forward line.
To go with that, Brazil's center-backs Marquinhos and Thiago Silva have been impeccable in the recent past and the qualify of Casemiro in the middle will be an added advantage. Keep in mind, Ederson is as luxurious a backup option to have between the sticks at the World Cup.
Brazil, however, will have to be wary of a quality Serbian side that has the likes of Aleksandar MitroviÄ‡, Flip Kostic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic among other highly-rated stars.