x

International

World Cup Spot on the Line for Portugal and Aging Ronaldo

At 37 years old, it’s no secret time is running out for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Playing at a high level is not getting any easier, and the opportunities to compete in top tournaments are becoming scarce.

Missing out on the World Cup, at his age, could mean he’s never playing in soccer’s showcase event again.

Portugal faces two must-win games in the European qualifying playoffs, beginning Thursday when it hosts Turkey. The winner then plays next Tuesday against the winner of European champion Italy vs. North Macedonia for a ticket to Qatar.

Although no one knows if Ronaldo would still play in the next World Cup at age 41, not qualifying for this one would be one of the biggest setbacks of his career.

Ronaldo tried not to think past the task at hand, though.

“Totally focused on the 2022 World Cup,” he said this week on Instagram. “As always, I’m proud to represent Portugal. We know it won’t be easy. We have the maximum respect for the opponents that we will face and they have the same goals as us. But together we will fight to put Portugal where it deserves to be. Let’s do it!”

Ronaldo is trying to make it to his 10th consecutive major tournament. He is the only player to have scored at least once in the finals of nine top tournament in a row, a streak that started at the 2004 European Championship and includes four other Euros and four World Cups.

He is the active Portugal player with the most World Cup goals with seven, two shy of Eusebio.

Portugal was relegated to the playoffs after a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Serbia at home in the final Group A game in November, when the hosts opened the scoring but conceded the deciding goal in the 90th minute. A draw would have been enough for Portugal, which is trying to qualify for the World Cup for the sixth straight time.

Only two consecutive victories will do now.

“It’s not the ideal situation, but it is what it is and we have to face it with responsibility,” Liverpool forward Diogo Jota said. “We can’t make too much drama about it. It’s a soccer match and I believe we can win and make it to the World Cup.”

To make it harder for Portugal, coach Fernando Santos has a depleted squad heading into the game against Turkey because of injuries, suspensions and the coronavirus.

His regular-starting defenders are both out — Pepe because of COVID-19 and Rúben Dias because of an injury.

Santos also won’t be able to count on goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, defender Nelson Semedo and midfielders Renato Sanches and Rúben Neves because of injuries, while defender João Cancelo is out because of a suspension.

Failure in the playoffs could also mean the end of the road in the national team for the 39-year-old Pepe, and maybe even for coach Santos, who has been at Portugal’s helm since 2014.

RELATED

WASHINGTON (AP) — Already struggling to keep his Chinatown bar afloat, Yousef Tellawi felt a sense of impending doom when he learned that the owner of Washington's Capitals and Wizards wanted to move the teams out of the neighborhood and into northern Virginia.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

Nikki Haley Wins the District of Columbia’s Republican Primary and Gets Her First 2024 Victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Saint George Orthodox Cathedral of Philadelphia welcomed its new presiding priest Rev.

WASHINGTON  — Vice President Kamala Harris and other top Biden administration officials held talks on Monday with a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet who came to Washington in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

WHITESTONE, NY – Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Whitestone celebrated its 49th anniversary with a luncheon following the Divine Liturgy on March 3.