In an emotional message to fans on his Instagram social media account on Sunday, the Portuguese captain — who skirted around the topic of his expected retirement — has acknowledged that his elusive hunt for a World Cup title had finished after 19 years.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Speaking out for the first time since Portugal was eliminated by Morocco, a defiant Ronaldo said he had “fought hard” for his country at the tournament.
“Winning a World Cup for Portugal was the biggest and most ambitious dream of my career,” Ronaldo wrote.
The post was accompanied by a picture showing a dejected Ronaldo walking off the pitch following Morocco’s surprise — and historic — victory for a team from Africa.
“There’s no point in reacting rashly,” the five-time Ballon d’Or winner added. “I just want everybody to know that a lot has been said, a lot has been written, a lot has been speculated about, but my dedication to Portugal has never wavered for an instant.”
Prior to the loss, Ronaldo had made history in Qatar by becoming the only men’s player to score at five separate World Cups after he netted Portugal’s first goal in their opening 3-2 win over Ghana.
“In my five appearances at World Cups over 16 years, always playing alongside great players and supported by millions of Portuguese, I have given my all,” Ronaldo said. “I left everything I had on the pitch. I’ll never shrink from a battle and I have never given up on that dream.”
But, he added: “Unfortunately, that dream ended yesterday.”
Ronaldo has not specifically commented on his future, but the 37-year-old has been widely expected to retire from international level football after Qatar, the fifth World Cup in which he had competed.
Controversy had swirled around the Portuguese skipper in recent matches after the team’s head coach Fernando Santos opted to bench Ronaldo in Portugal’s 6-1 steamrolling of Switzerland, apparently after he had reacted angrily while being substituted against South Korea during the group stages of the tournament.
Reports later circulated that the legendary football star had threatened to walk out on Seleção das Quinas amid their short-lived run in the elimination round in Qatar. Portugal ultimately denied those reports.
On Saturday, Santos again benched Ronaldo during the match against Morocco and started his replacement, 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos, who netted three goals in the clash with Switzerland. Ronaldo was substituted on in the game’s second half.
“I’ve always been just one more [Portuguese] fighting for everyone’s goal,” Ronaldo said in his Instagram post.
“I would never turn my back on my teammates or my country.”
Ronaldo said he planned now to “let everyone draw their own conclusions”.
He concluded his post by thanking Portugal and host nation Qatar.
“For now. There’s not much else to say. Thank you, Portugal. Thank you, Qatar. The dream was beautiful as long as it lasted.”
Ronaldo exits Qatar without a club team as well.
Portugal, who has never won a World Cup, now must set their eyes on the 2024 European Championship in Germany, the next big football tournament on the international circuit.
There was no love lost between Moroccan fans and Ronaldo however.
“Where Cristiano Ronaldo is? Do you know where? In my pocket,” a young Moroccan fan told Al Jazeera following the team’s win over Portugal.
United States rapper French Montana, who has Moroccan roots, also trolled Ronaldo on social media over the weekend.
“Ronaldo u had your time g … it’s Morocco time,” the Bronx rapper wrote on Saturday.
Morocco’s semifinal place makes them both the first African and Arab team to make it into the last four at a World Cup.
On Wednesday, Morocco will face reigning World Cup champions France in the tournament’s semifinal round at Al Bayt Stadium.