(CNN) — Two days after his turbulent departure from Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo will begin his World Cup campaign with Portugal and will be looking to put the events of the past week and a half behind him.
Portugal faces Ghana at Estadio 974 on Thursday, kicking off what will likely be the 37-year-old Ronaldo’s last World Cup, a trophy that has so far eluded him over the course of his decorated career.
A successful tournament in Qatar would also allow Ronaldo to get over his messy divorce with United, who ended his second spell at the club on Tuesday.
It came after the striker gave an explosive interview to Talk TV in which he said he felt betrayed by the team and launched a scathing attack on manager Erik ten Hag.
And as the World Cup progresses, Ronaldo has offered assurances that the attention of his Portuguese teammates will not be affected by the timing of his explosive interview.
“In my life, the best moment is always my moment,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t have to think about what other people think. I speak when I want. The players have known me very well for many years and they know the type of person I am.”
Following the announcement of his departure from Manchester United, Ronaldo was banned for two matches and fined £50,000 (around US$60,000) by the English Football Association (FA) for slapping a mobile phone out of the hand from a viewer earlier this year.
The incident came after United’s 1-0 defeat against Everton in April. In addition to the fine and suspension, which does not apply in the World Cup but will transfer to any new club he joins, Ronaldo has been warned by the FA about his future conduct.
Group H starts
Portugal is the heavy favorite against Ghana with 52 places separating the teams in the FIFA rankings.
But pedigree and star power seem to count for little in this World Cup, a tournament in which underdogs have fared well against more powerful opponents.
Saudi Arabia came from behind to defeat Argentina 2-1, while Japan did the same against Germany – clear signs that no team should be underestimated, nor should any team become complacent.
Not reaching the quarterfinals of a World Cup since 2006, Portugal have a point to prove in Qatar and come into the tournament with considerable firepower.
Despite losing Liverpool striker Diogo Jota to injury, the likes of Ronaldo, his former United teammate Bruno Fernandes, and Manchester City stars João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva are likely to turn up this Thursday.
Against them will be a Ghanaian team short on form but not lacking in quality.
Having been knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations after a humiliating group stage loss against Comoros in January, the Black Stars will benefit from the “signings” of striker Iñaki Williams and right-back Tariq Lamptey ahead of the tournament.
Williams switched affiliation from Spain earlier this year and Lamptey from England.
Otto Addo, the only part-time manager at the tournament, also has star midfielder Mohammed Kudus and experienced defenders Thomas Partey and the Ayew brothers Jordan and Andre at his disposal.
It remains to be seen if Addo, who works primarily as a scout for German team Borussia Dortmund, can make Ghana click.
Also in Group H are Uruguay and South Korea, who meet this Thursday at Education City Stadium.
Uruguay are the favorites and will benefit from the experience of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez. Liverpool striker Darwin Núñez will also feature in attack, while midfielders Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde have been in excellent form of late.
The positive news for South Korea is that star player Son Heung-Min has recovered from a damaged eye socket and has been training in a protective mask this week.
Brazil faces Serbia
In the other games this Thursday, pre-tournament favorites Brazil and Serbia will be the last two teams to start their tournaments when they meet at Lusail Stadium.
Five-time champions Brazil arguably have the best attacking lineup in the tournament, both in terms of quality and depth.
Neymar Jr, like his fellow talismans Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, is seeking his first World Cup trophy, and will be supported by Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr., Barcelona’s Raphinha and Everton’s Richarlison.
But Serbia, who topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, will not be easy to convince and have plenty of scoring prowess in captain Dušan Tadić, Juventus striker Dušan Vlahović and Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, Vlahović and Mitrovic have had injuries before the tournament.
Hoping to reach the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time, Serbia will likely have to battle Switzerland and Cameroon, who meet on Thursday, to reach the round of 16, barring disastrous results for Brazil.
But as this World Cup has shown so far, no eventuality is ruled out.
Switzerland vs Cameroon – 5 am (Miami time)
Uruguay vs South Korea – 8 am (Miami time)
Portugal vs Ghana – 11 am (Miami time)
Brazil vs Serbia – 2 pm (Miami time)
How to watch the matches
United States: Fox Sports
United Kingdom: BBC or ITV
Brazil: Sport TV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC
CNN’s Alasdair Howorth contributed reporting