The stage was set for Cristiano Ronaldo. To go one step further than Lionel Messi. To lead Portugal into the last eight of the World Cup.
All eyes were on Ronaldo and Sochi after Messi and Argentina had crashed out of the tournament in Kazan earlier on Saturday.
However, Ronaldo and the reigning European champions hit a Uruguayan roadblock at Fisht Stadium.
Ronaldo, unlike rival Messi, had dazzled in Russia. His four-goal tally in three games – including a hat-trick against Spain – had Portugal dreaming of their first World Cup quarter-final appearance since 2006.
There were two key hurdles, though. Ronaldo himself and knockout matches, plus Uruguay.
Prior to Saturday’s showdown, Ronaldo had failed to score or assist a goal in the knockout stages of a World Cup. Uruguay, meanwhile, had not conceded a goal in 2018 – an impressive run of six games, three of them at Russia 2018.
6 – Cristiano Ronaldo attempted six shots for Portugal tonight (one on target); one more than the entire Uruguay team managed over the 90 minutes (5). Departing.#WorldCup #URUPOR #URU #POR pic.twitter.com/nCs5W3ljtv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 30, 2018
There were flashes from Ronaldo early but nothing compared to Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, as the famed Uruguay duo showed what can be achieved when you have a little support to lean on.
Ronaldo could only watch on as Cavani played a diagonal ball across the pitch to pick out Suarez, who returned the favour with an inch-perfect cross for the Paris Saint-Germain forward to head home the early opener.
It was a thing of beauty, from a team who many expected to get down and dirty.
With Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez in their familiar central roles, Uruguay did demonstrate their defensive superiority, nullifying Ronaldo’s impact throughout an opening half largely controlled by a Portugal side lacking penetration against Oscar Tabarez’s rock-solid back four.
While Messi cut a forlorn figure during Argentina’s 4-3 loss to France, Ronaldo tried to inspire. A half-time pep talk and constant reinforcement appeared to lift his team-mates, too.
Here we go.
— Sacha Pisani (@Sachk0) June 30, 2018
Veteran defender Pepe – a familiar face and former Real Madrid team-mate – had Portugal back on level terms within 11 minutes of the second half.
Ronaldo was lifted. Portugal grew. Crucially, though, Cavani and Uruguay had the ideal response.
Portugal were only on level terms for seven minutes as Cavani, with one touch, curled an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Ronaldo’s head dropped. His frustration grew. Portugal’s captain and all-time leading scorer was booked in the closing stages and could even have seen red after furiously protesting in the face of the referee.
And just like that, he joined Messi in heading out of Russia and out of the World Cup. The two players who have dominated the Ballon d’Or for a decade are now forced to take a backseat for the remainder of the greatest show on Earth.
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