ALL eyes have been on Cristiano Ronaldo in the last few weeks leading up to Portugal’s 2022 World Cup season.
The 37-year-old superstar saw his contract with Manchester United terminated on Tuesday after his explosive interview with SunSport columnist Piers Morgan in which he tore the club to pieces from top to bottom.
As a free agent, Ronaldo is playing for his future in football.
And with Fernando Santos missing a number of key players for the Qatar tournament, they need Ronaldo to be at their best.
Portugal has never been world champion. In fact, they never reached a final, finishing third in 1966 and fourth in 2006.
Aside from those years, the nation has only reached the last 16 twice, with a rather poor record on the biggest stage.
And they face a tricky season from the start as they face Ghana, South Korea and Uruguay in the group stage.
Reaching the knockout rounds is far from certain – so SunSport takes a look at everything you need to know about them and their World Cup openers, Ghana.
How did you get there?
Portugal: Forced the hard way as they finished second to Serbia in their Uefa qualifying group despite six goals from Ronaldo.
They defeated Turkey 3-1 before winning their play-off final 2-0 against North Macedonia – who had previously defeated Italy, the Euro 2020 winners.
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Ghana: Eliminated in group stage by Afcon, qualifying for World Cup in dramatic fashion.
They topped their second-round qualifying group ahead of South Africa, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe before defeating Nigeria on away goals in a two-leg game against Qatar.
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Portugal: Won the pre-tournament friendly against Nigeria 4-0 but the form was patchy.
They won three of their six Nations League games – including 4-0 victories over Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
But they also lost to the Czechs as well as Spain – to go with another draw against their neighbors.
You’re never quite sure which Portugal will emerge, but when they do, they’re almost unstoppable.
Ghana: It’s been a tough year that started with a 3-0 win over Algeria ahead of Afcon.
Things didn’t get any better in the tournament as they lost 1-0 to Morocco and 3-2 to Comoros, followed by a 1-1 draw with Gabon as they fell in the group stage.
Since then they have battled past Nigeria to reach the World Cup.
But even then, not everything is positive. After beating Madagascar 3-0, they drew 1-1 with Central African Republic in their Afcon qualifier.
They were then beaten 4-1 by World Cup qualifiers Japan in this summer’s Kirin Cup semi-finals and reignited some pride by beating Chile on penalties in the third-place play-off.
Since then they’ve lost 3-0 to Brazil but beat Nicaragua 1-0 and Switzerland 2-0… a really mixed bag.
Who are the managers?
Portugal: Fernando Santos – Santos has been in charge of the nation for eight years and an international coach for over a decade, having managed Greece between 2010 and 2014.
Before that he managed Porto, AEK Athens, Panathinaikos, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and PAOK.
Santos also knows what it takes to succeed on the big stage – having guided Portugal to the Euro 2016 crown. He also oversaw the 2018-19 Nations League victory.
Ghana: Otto Oddo – Joined the national team in September 2021 as one of two assistant managers working under Milovan Rajevac.
However, the Serbian coach didn’t last long and German-born Oddo, who spent his playing days in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, among others, got the job.
Oddo was hired just before the Nigeria clash – and contributed to their success.
However, he has only won three of his nine competitive games.
He had previously worked as a talent coach and then number 2 at Dortmund after working as a scout for the Ghana national team.
Who are the Star Players?
Portugal: guess who? We all know of Ronaldo’s talent and despite his ongoing club drama.
He may not be in his prime anymore, but CR7 has the ability to single-handedly turn a matchstick on its head.
But make no mistake, Portugal is chock full of talent including Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo.
A great mix of youth and experience with players like Rafael Leao and Pepe in the squad.
Ghana: Arsenal star Thomas Partey is his country’s most important man but the squad is brimming with talent.
Brighton’s high-flyer Tariq Lamptey has been called up to the squad alongside the Ayews – Andre and Jordan.
La Liga ace Inaki Williams is an exciting prospect with just three caps under his belt so far, with Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus keen to keep one eye on him.
There is also plenty of Premier League talent in the squad – including Mohammed Salisu and Daniel Amartey in defence.
What is the head to head?
The two nations have just played ONCE – with Portugal going out winners.
Portugal narrowly edged out the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil 2-1, with Ronaldo in the top scorer that day.
Which TV station is showing the game?
The game will be broadcast live on ITV1 with kick-off at 4pm.
The game will also be available on the ITV Hub.
Portugal 2 Ghana 1
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6754945/portugal-ghana-world-cup-preview-form-prediction-ronaldo/ Portugal vs Ghana – World Cup Group H: How they got there, form and prediction as Cristiano Ronaldo kicks off the campaign