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Is this the end of the road for Ronaldo?

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Cristiano Ronaldo headed straight down the tunnel in tears after Portugal's World Cup quarter-final defeat by Morocco
Ronaldo headed down the tunnel in tears after Portugal’s World Cup quarter-final defeat by Morocco
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup dream is over, and probably for good – but is his whole career also reaching the end of the road?

Relegated to the role of substitute by his country after arguing with his coach, Ronaldo’s turbulent tournament never looked likely to have a happy ending – but his tears after Portugal’s quarter-final exit turned out to be an apt summary of his current situation.

A shock defeat by Morocco means the 37-year-old is still without a World Cup winner’s medal – the only major honour to elude him – and he is currently a global icon without a club to call home after his angry departure from Manchester United last month.

People were already wondering where he will play his club football next and, while the Portuguese public still adore him, questions over his future with his country will surely follow.

A goal, an outburst and then dropped

Ronaldo left United just before the World Cup started, but his time in Qatar actually began well enough.

The way he won a controversial penalty in Portugal’s first group game against Ghana was described as “total genius” by Fifa, and he converted it to become the first man to score at five World Cups.

Things went downhill fairly swiftly after that, however, and he did not manage a goal in his next two starts before falling out with boss Fernando Santos for his outburst after being substituted against South Korea.

Dropped against Switzerland in the last-16 – the first time since 2008 he had not begun a major tournament game – his young replacement Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick and Ronaldo was suddenly the superstar who was only a sub.

That was the way he was used against Morocco too, although he was given most of the second half to make an impact, coming on in the 51st minute with his side 1-0 down.

His appearance alone meant he managed to reach another landmark – his 196th international cap equalled the men’s record held by Kuwait forward Bader Al-Mutawa – but he could not mark it with the kind of special moment he has produced so often down the years.

Ronaldo already held the record for most men’s international goals, with 118, but he never looked likely to add to that tally against brilliantly organised opposition.

Willing but no end product

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after Pepe's 97th-minute miss
Ronaldo reacts after Pepe’s 97th-minute miss

Ronaldo managed only 10 touches in total and it took until the 91st minute for him to manage a shot, which did not have the power or direction to beat Morocco keeper Bono.

While Ronaldo was always willing and waiting for the right ball into the box, it never came.

When Rafael Leao’s 97th-minute cross flew over his head before being headed agonisingly wide by Pepe, Ronaldo sank to his knees in the six-yard box and, with his head in his hands, seemed to know his time was up.

When the final whistle came moments later, he shook hands with a couple of opponents, then walked straight off the pitch with only the company of a cameraman and – very briefly – a fan who had evaded security in search of an ill-timed, and unsuccessful, selfie request.

Ronaldo got as far as the tunnel before his emotions got the better of him, but his tears as he left this tournament will be how his World Cup will be best remembered, as well as his row with his coach.

Santos played down their rift afterwards, saying: “I do not think what happened to Cristiano, with the criticism, had any impact on the game. We are a united team.

“If we take two people that were the most upset about the game, it was Ronaldo and myself. That is part of the job for the coach and player.”

Benched, but far from unwanted

Cristiano Ronaldo sits on the bench against Morocco
Cristiano Ronaldo started Portugal’s quarter-final against Morocco on the bench

United they may be, but Portugal are heading home – after plenty of discussion about whether they are a better team without their fading talisman.

New eras and fresh starts regularly follow surprise defeats for any team at major finals but, whether Santos stays or goes as national boss, they are unlikely to discard Ronaldo now.

He still has plenty of credit in the bank with his country after inspiring the Euro 2016 victory, their first triumph at a major tournament.

The number of Portugal fans wearing ‘Ronaldo 7’ shirts outside Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday were a sign that they have not forgotten his past glories despite what has happened in the last couple of weeks.

Ronaldo’s sister, Katia Aveiro, spoke for many of them with an emotional message on Instagramexternal-link after the Morocco defeat.

She began: “When my grandchildren ask me to talk about struggle, honour, glory, work, dedication, obstacles, human evil in exchange for envy, when they ask me to talk about trophies, goals, prizes, records of an unprecedented legacy, I am going to talk about my brother, their uncle.”

And she concluded: “I’ll tell you about the empire he built, I’ll tell you about his strength, what he promised and fulfilled, I’ll tell you about his character, I’ll tell you that he never gave up even when they had already dug his grave. I’m going to show the film, the real film, of their uncle’s life.”

We still don’t know how that film will end, but an appearance at a sixth World Cup would be quite a plot twist.

He will be 41 by the time the next global tournament comes around – but, if he wants it, there is surely the chance of some redemption at Euro 2024.

Who his employers might be by then is another matter entirely.

A number of clubs are interested in signing Ronaldo when the transfer window opens on 1 January, including Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr, who made him a huge offer last week.

The Middle East has been far from a happy hunting ground for him at this tournament – but it might well be the place we see him in action next.

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