Bruno Fernandes
Portugal’s midfielder Bruno Fernandes celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal against Uruguay in the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group H football match at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar on November 28, 2022. Fernandes has been the Portugal’s mainstay in the tournament so far. Image Credit: AFP

Think Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s image comes to mind. It’s only natural the two have become synonymous. He’s Portugal’s best-known footballer since Eusebio and one of the best in the modern era.

The crowds love him. He’s a hero. A superstar who made number seven cool. He calls himself CR7. His fans too. At the stadium, Ronaldo gets the loudest cheer when teams are read. His fame is rivalled only by Argentina’s Lionel Messi.

At 37, Ronaldo is seeking a last hurrah in a record fifth appearance at the World Cup. After his acrimonious exit from Manchester United, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is in Qatar, looking to make an impact. That hasn’t happened. Not yet.

He did add to his growing list of records, becoming the only footballer to score in five World Cups. The strike against Ghana may have come via a penalty, but it’s still a goal. And that counts as his 819th career goal — his 118th for Portugal.

Ronaldo chases Eusebio’s record

Ronaldo needed one more goal to equal Eusebio’s nine World Cup goals for Portugal. He did it against Uruguay; he claimed to have headed the ball. His celebration and body language said that. The scoreboard initially said that. But you can’t fool technology, so it was credited to Bruno Fernandes. It should be said in Ronaldo’s defence that his attempted header distracted goalkeeper Sergio Rochet, allowing Fernandes’ cross to enter the net.

While Ronaldo continues to chase the record-equalling goal, Fernandes has been Portugal’s hero. The Manchester United midfielder has been pulling the strings in the company of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva. He had a hand in two of the three goals against Ghana and fired the raking cross that went into the Uruguayan goal after Ronaldo air-headed it.

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Fernandes wasn’t finished. He was no longer in Ronaldo’s shadow, stepping up to take a penalty when the Portuguese talisman was substituted. No nerves from Fernandes, as he sent the Rochet the wrong way. Fernandes would have completed a hat-trick if the woodwork hadn’t come in the way.

With two assists and two goals in two matches, Fernandes has had a hand in four of the five of Portugal’s goals in Qatar (Ronaldo scored the other). Fernandes, not Ronaldo, has been the mainstay of the team. The two wins helped them qualify for the Round of 16, with a game against South Korea in hand.

In the shadow of Ronaldo

Portugal have a bunch of gifted footballers. Besides Fernandes and Silva, there’s Joao Felix, Rafael Leao and Joao Cancelo. Of course, there’s veteran Pepe still defending with gusto. Perhaps, this could be the best Portuguese team in recent years.

Never mind Ronaldo’s underwhelming show, Fernandes has been leading the Portuguese charge. If the rest pull their weight, Portugal can have a good run in Qatar. Maybe, they can equal the 1966 semifinal finish, crafted by Golden Boot winner Eusebio’s brilliance.

If they do, you can be sure of Fernandes’ hands at the rudder.