Ronaldo and Neymar seek history

DOHA – Two of the best players in football start their World Cup competition on Thursday as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar both seek history in Qatar.

Ronaldo is attempting to become the first male soccer player to score in five different World Cups as he leads Portugal against Ghana. Marta of Brazil has scored at five Women’s World Cups.

Neymar, meanwhile, is the leader of a Brazilian side seeking a record-breaking sixth World Cup, but their first in 20 years. Brazil meets Serbia in the first game.

However, all attention is on Ronaldo after suffering a messy but mutual split with Manchester United this week.

The 37-year-old striker, who is likely to play in his final World Cup, gave an explosive interview just days before his trip to Qatar, in which he criticized manager Erik ten Hag and United’s owners, sparking the split. And on Wednesday, Ronaldo was banned for two Premier League games and fined £50,000 ($60,000) for slapping a phone out of a fan’s hand at Everton last season.

The ban will follow Ronaldo to any new club he joins in any country, but will not apply to the World Cup.

Ghana captain Andre Ayew warned against assuming Ronaldo’s headlines could be a distraction for Portugal.

“It’s not our problem what happens in the Portuguese team,” said Ayew on Wednesday. “They are all great professionals playing on top teams and they will be ready for the World Cup whatever else happens.

“We go into this game with Portugal’s favorites on paper,” he added. “But we have to show that what happens on the pitch is more important. We’re playing against a big team with top players, but we believe in ourselves and we’re going to make it very difficult for them.”

Ghana are the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup, at 61st, and a massive underdog in a group that also includes Uruguay and South Korea.

Before leaving Manchester United, Ronaldo said the drama had nothing to do with the World Cup. Teammate Bruno Fernandes agreed.

“Our focus is 100% on the national team and we are 100% focused on what we need to do,” said Fernandes.

Neymar, meanwhile, has deliberately kept quiet since arriving in Qatar. His only public statement was a social media post featuring a sixth star photoshopped around the Brazil logo on his shorts – a clear indication that his only goal is another World Cup for his country.

“It’s our dream,” said Brazil striker Richarlison. “Neymar posted this photo because it’s his dream too. He wants to win this and we know how ready he is to win this. He can do whatever he wants. It’s his dream. If Neymar is happy here, we will be happy. That’s the most important.”

Neymar has scored five goals in six games for Brazil this year, all on penalties.

Serbia have not made it through the group stage as an independent nation in three previous World Cup appearances. The qualification for the European Championship failed in five attempts.

MASKED MAN

Son Heung-min, who finished last season in a draw as the Premier League’s top scorer, is likely to be a masked man when South Korea play Uruguay in Group H.

The forward broke his left eye socket in a collision in a Champions League game for Tottenham earlier this month and has not played since November 1. He has been wearing a Batman-style protective mask during training in Qatar and will likely wear it again for the game.

Son directs South Korea’s offense, which is based on his ability to shoot with both feet and his dead-ball accuracy.

Uruguay are led by Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani, both in their fourth World Cup. With seven World Cup goals, Suárez is just one goal short of national record holder Óscar Míguez, who played in the 1950 team that won the title.

SWITZERLAND CAMEROON

Teams will meet for the first time when Switzerland and Cameroon play, with the Swiss attempting to progress to the knockout stage for the third straight World Cup.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who plays for Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, is at the World Cup for the fourth time and is Switzerland’s offensive leader. He has been directly involved in 48% of the 23 goals in the last four major tournaments, with eight goals and three assists.

Cameroon finished third at the Africa Cup of Nations but have won just one of their last five games, against 141st-placed Burundi. The Indomitable Lions are the fourth-lowest team in the tournament but after Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina earlier this week, the five-time African champions have hope.

It is Cameroon’s eighth World Cup, the most among African countries, but the national team have lost their last seven games – a record surpassed only by Mexico’s nine consecutive defeats between 1930 and 1958.

GERMANY SHOCK

Germany arrived in Qatar as one of seven European nations planning to protest the host country’s discriminatory laws against homosexuality and human rights abuses.

But the Football Association immediately threatened any player wearing the rainbow-colored “One Love” armband with a yellow card, so the Germans found another way to protest: the 11 starters kept their mouths shut in their pre-game formation photo as a rebuke be silenced by FIFA.

Then Germany was silenced on the field.

Japan shocked the four-time champions with a 2-1 win that saw substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano, who both play for German clubs, score late goals in Wednesday’s win.

That came a day after Argentina’s surprise 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.



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