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Portugal's midfielder Joao Mario (centre) takes part with his teammates in a training session at Shahaniya Sports Club of Al Samriya Autograph Collection Hotel in Al Samriya, northwest of Doha. Image Credit: AFP

Doha: Portugal will be keen to let their football do the talking when they face Ghana in their World Cup opener on Thursday following the news that star man Cristiano Ronaldo has had his contract at Manchester United terminated over comments he made about the club.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal hammered Nigeria 4-0 in their last warm-up match before flying to Qatar, offering some encouragement to their fans after a poor run of form.

But Ghana - who reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2016 - arrived on the Arabian Peninsula with wind their sails too after beating Switzerland 2-0 in a friendly.

The match at the 974 Stadium in Doha gives the sides the chance to lay down an early marker in Group H, which also includes Uruguay and South Korea.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has come under pressure from local media and fans following recent disappointments - including a last-16 Euros exit last year.

There is also talk of tension in the squad and worries among fans that the team is too focused on serving captain Ronaldo, who at 37 is past his prime.

“The environment in the changing room is excellent. No problems,” five-times Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldo said. “The group is shielded. And I take this opportunity to say: stop asking about me.” He led Portugal to triumph at Euro 2016 but World Cup glory has eluded him and Qatar represents his last chance.

Some fans say the time has already come for Ronaldo to step aside and let talent such as fellow Manchester United players Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo take centre stage.

Team rebuild

Lining up against them for Ghana are likely to be Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey, Leicester City defender Daniel Amartey and Athletic Bilbao striker Inaki Williams.

Coach Otto Addo, Ghana’s third manager in 12 months, has sought to rebuild the team after a disastrous showing at the Cup of Nations in early 2022, bringing in more European-born players such as Brighton & Hove Albion wingback Tariq Lamptey.

But his plans suffered a setback when both of his leading goalkeepers suffered injuries, meaning third-choice Lawrence Ati-Zigi, who plays at St Gallen in Switzerland, will be entrusted to keep out Ronaldo and his colleagues on Thursday.

The teams met at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when Portugal won 2-1 thanks to a late winner by Ronaldo.