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Paul McGrath: We may have seen the last of Cristiano Ronaldo after Portugal defeat

Ireland legend fears Cristiano Ronaldo may call time on his international career after World Cup exit

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after teammate Pepe missed a chance to score during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)© AP/PA Images

Paul McGrathSunday World

It was all supposed to be about Cristiano Ronaldo, but his World Cup exit, and Portugal’s, came down to a basic goalkeeping error.

If a keeper comes for a cross, you have to get there before the attackers.

Diogo Costa was still rising into the air when Youssef En-Nesyri had headed the ball past him for the goal that would ensure that Morocco are the first Arab nation and the first African nation to play in a World Cup semi-final.

Was Costa deceived by the flight of the ball?

Was there a gust of wind, something, anything that would explain how the Porto goalkeeper got it so dramatically wrong?

Costa is only 23 and there’s every chance he will be Portugal’s goalkeeper for the next 15 years.

But I wonder does Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos now regret not giving the goalkeeping gloves to Rui Patricio or Jose Sa – the two more experienced alternatives.

I’ll get to Portugal in a moment but this is a wonderful achievement for Moroccan football.

Their players play at decent clubs all across Europe, even if Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech was their only player yesterday at an elite club.

They took the game to Portugal in the first half and were well worth that 1-0 lead.

Then they sat back and defended in numbers for the second half and said to Portugal ‘what have you got?” To which the answer was ‘not a lot’.

Indeed, Morocco missed two gilt-edged chances on the break for a second-half goal that would have sealed the deal and made that nervy last eight minutes of injury time irrelevant.

I like their midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, he put in some shift yesterday across the centre of the pitch and he can play a bit too.

Achraf Hakimi, once on the books of Real Madrid, was another to shine. I bet Real wish now that they’d kept him.

One issue Morocco will have for Wednesday’s semi-final is that injuries and suspension mean they will probably be missing three players, including their captain Romain Saiss, who played with Wolves last season.

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 10: Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco rises above goalkeeper Diogo Costa and Ruben Dias of Portugal to head in the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter final match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)© Getty Images

You just fear those losses in personnel, and the huge physical efforts the Moroccan players put into every game, might catch up with them on this massive stage.

I’m writing these words before England play France.

One thing is certain, the winner of that match will have a much stronger bench than Morocco for the big showdown.

But I saw plenty of my Ireland team in Morocco yesterday, in their determination not to concede a goal once ahead.

Jack’s team prided ourselves on that. If we got a goal up, you were going to have to do something special to get it back.

Think Stuttgart or Giants Stadium.

Yet if we fell a goal behind, think Palermo against England and Cagliari against Holland, we fancied ourselves to get the goal back.

That’s the belief you had to have back then in international football – and you still have to have it today.

Those who say that the top players don’t care about international football might change their mind on seeing Ronaldo’s tears as he walked down the tunnel last night.

He may have been earning half a million pounds a week at Manchester United, but those were the tears of a man who knew he had lost a last chance at winning something money cannot buy you: a World Cup winner’s medal.

Cristiano will be 41 by the time the next circus kicks off in North America in the summer, thankfully, of 2026.

He won’t be playing then. But would the great man be tempted to give it one last fling for the Euro 2024 Finals, only 18 months away?

He might and then he might not. First off, he has a Euro medal from six years ago, it was the World Cup one he wanted.

Secondly, Cristiano will certainly walk if Santos stays on as coach.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo leaves the field at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)© AP/PA Images

I’d say the relationship between the pair of them is broken beyond repair.

If a new boss were to come in and say to Cristiano, ‘Look, I want you to give it one more go under these conditions,’ yes, I think he’d be tempted.

But do Portugal need him? They have cracking young forwards in Goncalo Ramos, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao.

Would the great Ronaldo, with all those goals, get in the way of their development, if he was still even a squad man with Portugal.

Probably. And that’s why a shock defeat to Morocco is likely to be the last we’ll ever see in international football of one of the greatest of them all.

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