Olivier Giroud scores goals, and this is what he has done across his career.

On Sunday, Giroud proved his timeless finishing qualities again when he overtook the great Thierry Henry to become France's all-time record goalscorer.

His first-half strike against Poland made it 52 goals in the shirt of Les Bleus, writing himself into the history books as France continued their defence of the World Cup in Qatar.

It is not something that many would have predicted years ago, with Giroud respected to a point, but never really being mentioned in the same breath as some of France's other attacking talent.

Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and even Antoine Griezmann often steal the headlines where the national team is concerned.

Giroud is considered to be a less glamorous name, which is quite the dichotomy considering there is a strong argument the Milan striker has the most impressive hair in world football.

The numbers do not lie, though, and the 36-year-old now stands alone atop the scoring charts for the world champions. Above Henry, Platini, Griezmann, Trezeguet, and so on.

After making a name for himself when leading Montpellier in their shock Ligue 1 title win in 2011-12, scoring 21 goals in 36 games, he made the move to Arsenal.

Giroud's time in the Premier League had ups and downs, but he still notched 105 goals for the Gunners in his five and a half seasons there, before moving across London to Chelsea and scoring another 39 in three and a half years at Stamford Bridge.

After heading to Serie A and Milan, there were still those left unconvinced by Giroud, though he has continued to score in Italy as he hit 11 in 29 league games in his debut season, helping the Rossoneri to win their first Scudetto since 2010-11.

He has another nine in 19 games in all competitions at club level this season, and has carried that form into the World Cup.

When the injured Benzema was confirmed to be out of Qatar 2022, there was panic among France fans as this year's Ballon d'Or winner would not be there to help them defend their title from Russia 2018.

However, Benzema also wasn't there in Russia. Giroud was.

 

His presence up front may not have brought Giroud any goals in that tournament, or even any shots on target – somewhat remarkably from 546 minutes on the pitch – but he more than played his part.

Giroud was a perfect foil for the teenage Mbappe, who thrived working off the big man's hold-up play, as did Griezmann as France went on to lift the World Cup for the second time, with Giroud creating seven chances from open play and recording one assist.

This time, though, Giroud seems more focused on being the main man in front of goal, and he is already putting himself in the discussion for the Golden Boot, with the record-breaking strike being his third in Qatar.

He may never be in the running for the Ballon d'Or, and is unlikely to be on many people's lists when selecting the all-time best French players.

But with the 52nd goal coming in his 117th game at international level, there is no denying that Giroud scores goals, and as of now, more than anyone else in France's history.

Lionel Messi will walk out the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium tunnel on Saturday with the expectations of millions on his shoulders when Argentina face Australia in the last 16 of Qatar 2022.

That is nothing new, of course, for this will be the 1,000th match of a remarkable career that may yet to have peaked – though that will depend on whether Messi can inspire his country past Australia and all the way to World Cup glory.

Now aged 35, Messi has already accepted this will be his final chance to lift the most famous trophy of them all, a little over a year on from helping La Albiceleste end their 28-year wait for a major title with Copa America success.

Ahead of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's milestone match, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind his previous 999 appearances for club and country – and why the next two weeks could yet define his career.

Barca Breakthrough

October 16, 2004. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest this was a day that football as we know it changed, with a 17-year-old Messi replacing Deco from the substitutes' bench in Barcelona's 1-0 win over city rivals Espanyol.

In a sign of the mini maestro's longevity, he has since played alongside two players born after his Barcelona debut – Warren Zaire-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu, born in March 2006 and May 2005 respectively.

Both teenagers are on Paris Saint-Germain's books, where Messi is now plying his trade after ending his two-decade association with Barcelona in emotional circumstances in August 2021.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of Messi's career appearances came during his 17 seasons at Camp Nou. He featured 778 times for Barca, scoring a staggering 672 goals and assisting 265, which amounts to 937 direct-goal involvements.

He made more appearances against Real Madrid than any other opponent, playing 47 times against Barca's fiercest rivals.

 

Good times under Guardiola

Barcelona's inability to offer Messi a new contract due to their dire financial situation allowed PSG to pounce. After an underwhelming first campaign in Paris, the superstar forward has found his form this term.

Messi has featured 53 times for the Parisians to date and has scored (23) and assisted (28) a combined 51 goals – just short of one goal involvement every match on average.

He has already had two different managers at the Parc des Princes, with Christophe Galtier having replaced Mauricio Pochettino in the hot seat. That takes the number of head coaches Messi has worked under to 19.

It was under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, between 2008 and 2012, that Messi played his most games as he featured on 219 occasions under the Catalan and scored 211 times.

Luis Enrique is next on that list (158 games), followed by Ernesto Valverde (124) and Frank Rijkaard (110), the man who gave him his debut against Espanyol.


1,000 not out

Some 18 years and 48 days on from that first appearance comes match number 1,000 for club and country – and what a truly huge occasion it is for Messi and Argentina, who recovered from a slow start in the group phase to advance.

Messi has featured in 22 previous World Cup matches – one more than Diego Maradona as the most ever for an Argentina player – scoring eight times and assisting six more. 

Incredibly for a player of his game-changing quality, Messi has yet to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup – 23 efforts, zero goals. Interestingly, the same is also true of archenemy Cristiano Ronaldo (25 shots without a goal).

 

The aim for Messi will be to put that right against Australia on what will be his 169th senior cap, 17 years on from his senior international bow against Hungary, which came just 10 games into his career for club and country.

And while it will be a special occasion for Messi, the man many consider to be the greatest of all time will hope to make it to 1,003 matches before Argentina's Qatar campaign concludes.

Should that be the case and Argentina go on to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a centre-stage Messi will have the defining moment of a truly special career that still has some way to go yet.

As far as World Cup grudge matches go, not many – if any – can rival Ghana against Uruguay this century.

Twelve and a half years on from 'that' match in Johannesburg, the footage of Luis Suarez celebrating his next-level dark arts – some would use a stronger term – remains engrained in the memory.

While revenge may not be the main motive for winning Friday's latest encounter between the sides – or at least not in the view of Ghana boss Otto Addo – the Black Stars will be relishing the chance to get one over on Suarez and Co.

The prize on the line is not as big as in 2010, when Uruguay's penalty shoot-out win took them through to the World Cup semi-finals, but should Ghana avoid defeat at Al Janoub Stadium they will be through to the last 16 in Qatar.

Ahead of the tasty tussle, Stats Perform looks at why their only previous World Cup meeting was so notorious and what exactly is on the line this time around.

"The hand of God now belongs to me" 

Those are the words credited to Suarez in 2010, referencing Diego Maradona's equally as infamous goal for Argentina against England in the 1986 World Cup and clearly taking some pride in his act of gamesmanship.

Public enemy number one in Ghana and wider parts of Africa he may have been, but back home in Uruguay he was elevated towards legendary status.

"I always say if I was Suarez, I'd have done the same thing to save my country. He's a hero there," said Ghana great Asamoah Gyan. "People hate him, but he did what he had to do to get his country to the semi-final."

So what exactly did Suarez do to become hated or loved to the highest degree, depending on exactly who you ask?

No, the then-Ajax striker did not bite anyone – not in that game, at least – but rather used another part of his body to help send his country through at Ghana's expense.

 

After Diego Forlan had cancelled out Sulley Muntari's opener to take the match to extra-time, penalties loomed to determine who would reach the last four in South Africa.

Ghana looked the more likely side to score a winner in their bid to become the first African side to reach the semis of the competition, at which point Suarez illegally handled Dominic Adiyiah's goal-bound shot.

"Illegally handled" is one way of putting it; a great two-handed save on the line is another. Suarez did what was necessary to prevent Adiyiah's late effort from eliminating Uruguay, who went on to lose 3-2 to the Netherlands in the next round.

A red card was his punishment, though it was ultimately worth it as Gyan struck the crossbar from the subsequent spot-kick and it was Uruguay who went through on penalties after the game finished 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes.

 

The state of play 12 years on

More than the act itself, it was arguably the way Suarez stood on the edge of the pitch and wildly celebrated Gyan's missed effort that angered Ghana supporters so much.

The man who had just denied them their greatest day was about to enjoy his own greatest day – or at least with his national side, having had so much success at club level, where he is now plying his trade for Nacional once again.

And so we arrive full circle to the current day in Al-Wakrah, where on Friday it will be heartbreak for at least one of Ghana or Uruguay.

After a thrilling 3-2 victory over South Korea to follow up a just as lively 3-2 loss to Portugal, Ghana are second in Group H and will be assured of a place in the knockout stage should they win.

A draw, just like in Bloemfontein, may also be enough for Ghana should South Korea fail to beat group leaders Portugal.

Uruguay, who have failed to score in a stalemate with South Korea and 2-0 loss to Portugal, need to win and hope Portugal avoid defeat against South Korea.

Not quite winner takes all, then, but the stakes remain incredibly high in this huge grudge match, which Suarez will be hopeful of starting.

"I'm a guy who doesn't think too much in the past when this incident happened," Ghana boss Addo said in the build-up to the match. "I'm a strong believer if you don't seek revenge, you get even more blessings."

Maybe so. But by beating Uruguay on Friday to exact that revenge, Ghana will have blessings that may yet take them even further than the magical run 12 years ago that ended in the most crushing of manners.

Either way, in what will surely be his final World Cup, you would not bet against that man Suarez taking centre stage regardless of the outcome.

Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumphs in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to the MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put the MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumph in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on the MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

Ghosts everywhere. In the stands, where the spectre of Diego Maradona was waving his fists, wondering how Argentina could put in such a vapid performance.

On the pitch, where the shadows of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain were sprinting through the middle, looking for a pass or clearing a path for Lionel Messi.

The ghosts of Argentina's past haunted them for large parts of Saturday's game against Mexico, as the present almost became a living nightmare.

Lionel Scaloni's team were in dire danger of heading out of this World Cup after two games, the champions of South America last year vulnerable to a humbling on the global stage, until a flash of Messi magic changed everything.

A swish of that left boot from 25 yards, and the ball zipped into the bottom-right corner. It had to be him.

On the night Messi matched Maradona's Argentina record of 21 World Cup appearances, he also moved level with El Diego on eight goals in his career at the finals, two behind national team record holder Gabriel Batistuta. For Messi, those World Cup goals have all come in the group stage, something he came to Qatar to change and still might.

Losing to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday was bad enough for Argentina, but at least there would be a reaction against the Mexicans. Perhaps it might be the spur they needed, and perhaps it could still be Messi's World Cup.

Those were theories that were widely voiced, yet for an hour they looked to be utter bunkum.

Even at 90 minutes, with a 2-0 scoreline barely reflecting the flow of the game, you were left fearing Argentina might find a way to trip up against Poland next time out. If they finish second in this group, it will almost certainly be France waiting for them in the second round, and on the evidence so far, Argentina would be mauled by Les Bleus.

Messi and Co arrived at this tournament on a 36-game unbeaten run, but such has been their languid start you would have been forgiven for guessing they played all 36 of those games in the last month.

Here they were off the pace from the start, lacking any obvious strategy, down on energy, praying for Messi to conjure something. It had an air of Barcelona in the final days of Ronald Koeman's reign about it.

Scaloni has backed Lautaro Martinez to be his lone striker, and there might have to be a rethink on that score. Martinez has a shot conversion rate of 12.9 per cent this season for Inter, which is not ideal for a striker, and has been finding the net at club level every 206.25 minutes.

He has Edin Dzeko up alongside him for the Nerazzurri, who has been more clinical with his chances, but with Argentina it is Martinez who leads the line ostensibly alone.

This team used to have an embarrassment of attacking riches, and they desperately miss prime era Higuain and Aguero.

Martinez has a strong scoring record for his country, but he was ineffective here, his second game at his first World Cup.

When a clear chance came his way in the 40th minute, after a fine cross from the right by Di Maria, he planted a header way off target. It was his one goal attempt. Argentina only had five shots all night, which was still one more than Mexico. Their combined total of shots is the fewest ever recorded in a World Cup, based on studies of matches going back as far as 1966.

There was a moment late in the first half that looked to be typifying Argentina's night: Mexico's Alexis Vega had a free-kick well saved by Emiliano Martinez shortly before half-time and Argentina went on the break, with Messi looking to dance down the right and make something happen.

Except, those feet don't dance as quickly as they once did, and the ball was soon swept into touch. At Paris Saint-Germain, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for company, the gradual decline of Messi is not quite so obvious. He can be a joy to behold in that company still, but when all the attention of defenders is on him, as it inevitably was this time, he was being too easily crowded out and barged off the ball.

In the second half, Erick Gutierrez hacked down Messi when he got close to the edge of the box and began to sprint, and Argentina had the chance they wanted. Messi punted it over the crossbar, and you just sensed it would not be his night.

And then Messi decided that, actually, yes it would be.

At the age of 35, he cannot win a World Cup by himself, but he can still come up with magical moments, and it was a goal for the career showreels, a stroke of familiar genius at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will stage this tournament's final.

For the second time in his career, Messi has scored in six consecutive international games for his country. He remains a joy of a player, and his country's biggest hope.

Substitute Enzo Fernandez added a late second goal that flattered Argentina, and it made the Benfica player, at 21 years and 313 days, the youngest Argentina scorer at a World Cup since the 18-year-old Messi announced himself at the 2006 finals. The past might still be a haunting influence, but here was a glimpse into the future.

A smiling Messi celebrated with relieved supporters at the end. For just a fleeting moment in this game, he had been afforded a yard of space and made it count.

Friday marked two years since the death of Maradona. He is Argentina's past, yet you still almost expect television cameras to pan to him in the stands.

Messi has spent his life trying to live up to the legend of Maradona, and that shared super-natural brilliance has just about kept Argentina's hopes alive in Qatar.

The official line is that it doesn't matter. It's an irrelevance. In fact, why are we even talking about it?

"I don't think that it plays any role. It was two years ago," said Julian Brandt on Friday.

But Spain's 6-0 slicing and dicing of Germany in November 2020 looms large over Sunday's re-match at Al Bayt Stadium, however much any protagonists pretend to ignore its presence.

Germany's record defeat in a competitive international came in that Nations League contest played in Seville, and while Joachim Low hung on a little longer as coach, that was the night when his fate was as good as sealed.

So there's one thing that has changed since the humiliation at La Cartuja: Low has gone and Hansi Flick is pulling the strings for Germany, the former Bayern Munich boss entrusted with leading the team into the World Cup.

"We are in a different position now and have improved in a lot of areas – even if not everything is going smoothly," said Germany midfielder Brandt.

How's about that for understatement of the year?

Germany are positively reeling, on the brink of a second consecutive World Cup group-stage elimination after folding to a 2-1 defeat against Japan in their Group E opener.

Their hopes hinge, more than likely, on finding a way to beat Spain, a team who left scorched earth in their wake while crushing Costa Rica 7-0 on matchday one.

"At the end of the day, it is a chance to change the mood," reckoned Brandt. "A game like this can energise you a lot. The 6-0 doesn't play a part for any player."

To which one can only hold one's hands up and commend the focus of the modern-day player if they can genuinely freeze out memories of such dark nights.

 

Brandt was an unused substitute for that six-goal shellacking, so perhaps the scars genuinely have faded in his case.

As a bystander, he could hardly be held responsible, and Brandt was also a bench-warmer throughout Germany's capitulation against Japan, so he gets another free pass there.

Where is there accountability then? Perhaps German FA (DFB) technical director Oliver Bierhoff is the man to be looking at, having been in post for coming up to five years.

Bierhoff gave Low his backing after the Spain shambles two years ago, and bringing his involvement up to the present day, the former striker said Germany were "really, really angry" at themselves for folding against Japan.

The Euro 96 final match-winner described the upcoming Spain game as "the first final" for Germany at this World Cup.

He also told broadcaster ARD it was "a myth" the team needed to be friends and said "friction and conflict" could be positive.

So there might not be absolute love and harmony in the ranks, but Bierhoff insists Germany are fully focused on their mission.

"That's the most important thing," Bierhoff said, "that in the end, even though we are many different personalities and have different ideas, we all submit to one single goal: to play a successful World Cup."

Germany have never lost consecutive group games in a single edition of the World Cup, but this team doesn't let history stop them achieving firsts. After all, they had only lost their opening game at a World Cup once in their first 18 appearances at the finals, prior to 2018, but now they have surrendered openers at consecutive editions.

In World Cup games where Germany had scored at least once, they were unbeaten in 29 matches (W25 D4) before tossing away a first-half lead to hand over three points to Japan on Wednesday. Their last such defeat was the famous 2-1 quarter-final loss to Bulgaria at USA 94.

They've never lost three consecutive World Cup games, but their 2018 campaign ended with a painful defeat to South Korea, then came Japan, and now Spain stand in their way.

The good news for Germany is that Spain have not won their opening two games at a World Cup since 2006. In 2010, when they went on to lift the trophy, Spain lost to Switzerland in their opener, so mishaps can happen.

Rather more bleak for Flick and Co is that Germany have won just one their last seven games against Spain, a 1-0 friendly success in November 2014. They have drawn two and lost four in that span and have not beaten Spain in a competitive game since Euro 88, drawing two games and losing three.

Where should Germany look for positives?

Young midfielder Jamal Musiala has emerged in the two years since that dismal trip to Andalusia, but Germany sorely lack a world-class striker, the sort that might have put the Japan game to bed before the underdogs set about fighting back in the final quarter.

Arguably the same might be said of Spain, but Ferran Torres hit three in the 6-0 rout and netted twice against Costa Rica, so Germany must be watchful there.

Spain toppled Germany 1-0 in the 2010 World Cup semi-finals, the first and only time they have defeated the four-time champions in the tournament's history.

They have talent pouring through the ranks, with the likes of Pedri, Gavi and Dani Olmo impressing against the outclassed Costa Ricans, while Germany bring a familiar cast, star-studded but struggling to equal the sum of their parts.

After the Spain game in 2020, Flick, then with Bayern Munich, said of the national team: "I was disappointed with the way we played football. On the other hand, these things are possible in football, sometimes you get run over and, in the end, you have to draw the right conclusions."

He added: "But that's not my job."

Now, however, it emphatically is his job. Flick has to work out how to lift a group left shattered by Japan's comeback, while ignoring the elephant stomping around the room, trumpeting the message that the last time Germany encountered Spain, it went down as one of the national team's darkest days.

But it could get darker still. If Germany crumble again to La Roja, this time at the World Cup, prepare for a total eclipse of Die Mannschaft.

Cristiano Ronaldo has become the first ever player to score in five different World Cups after finding the net for Portugal against Ghana on Thursday.

The 37-year-old, who is currently without a club after mutually parting ways with Manchester United on Tuesday, converted a second-half penalty to give Portugal the lead.

That was Ronaldo's eighth World Cup goal, each of those coming in the group stage – the most of any player yet to score in the knockout stages. 

Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose have all netted at four World Cups, but Ronaldo is now out in front in that regard after scoring at a fifth finals.

Here, Stats Perform looks at each of Ronaldo's previous seven goals on the biggest stage of them all, three of which came in one game.

 


Portugal 2-0 Iran (Frankfurt, 2006)

Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot for the first of his World Cup goals against Iran in 2006, making him Portugal's youngest ever scorer in the competition at 21 years and 132 days, a record that stands to this day. Despite Portugal finishing third that year, a teenage Ronaldo did not add to his goals tally.

Portugal 7-0 North Korea (Cape Town, 2010)

The Selecao put seven goals past North Korea, with Ronaldo scoring the sixth of those to end a two-year wait for an international goal. Portugal failed to find the net in any of their other three matches in South Africa and were eliminated by Spain in the last 16.

Portugal 2-1 Ghana (Brasilia, 2014)

Ronaldo scored a late winner in Portugal's final group match against Ghana – a simple finish following some poor defending – but it was not enough to prevent his side from exiting Brazil 2014 in the first round behind the United States and tournament winners Germany.

Portugal 3-3 Spain (Sochi, 2018)

Entering the tournament as the world's best player, Ronaldo lived up to his billing by scoring a hat-trick in what will go down as one of the all-time great individual World Cup performances. After opening the scoring from the penalty spot, the superstar forward beat David de Gea with a shot from outside the box and then scored a late free-kick to rescue a point in a topsy-turvy thriller.

Portugal 1-0 Morocco (Moscow, 2018)

Ronaldo was not finished there, either, as he made it four goals for the tournament with an unstoppable header inside four minutes against Morocco, with that proving to be the winner. However, his goalscoring touch eluded him in the knockout rounds as he fired a blank in the 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last 16.

The Cristiano Ronaldo saga at Manchester United is finally over. The forward's bombshell interview with Piers Morgan always looked likely to hasten his departure from Old Trafford, an event which came to pass on Tuesday. 

In a wide-ranging conversation, Ronaldo told Morgan he had been "betrayed" by senior figures at United and, perhaps most shockingly of all, that he had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag.

Asked if he felt he was being forced out of United, Ronaldo said: "Yes, not only by the coach, but by another two or three guys around the club that I felt betrayed me.

"I shouldn't say that [they were trying to get rid of me], I don't know, but yes, I feel betrayed. I felt that some people didn't want me here not only this year, but last year too."

If Ronaldo's exit was truly desired by the United hierarchy, they got their wish when the mutual termination of his contract was announced on Tuesday. 

How did it get to this point? Let's look back at Ronaldo's tumultuous second spell with the club with whom he made his name.

August 27, 2021: United announce an agreement with Juventus to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, reportedly beating Manchester City to the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's signature. On August 31, a two-year deal with an option for a third season is completed.

September 11, 2021: His second debut sees Ronaldo face Newcastle United at home, and he marks it in style with a brace in a 4-1 win.

September 29, 2021: Champions League history for Ronaldo as he breaks the record for the most appearances (178) in the competition and fittingly scores a last-gasp winner as United beat Villarreal 2-1.

November 21, 2021: Ronaldo continued to score important goals for United in the Champions League, however, a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool and a 2-0 loss to City piled the pressure on boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After a 4-1 loss at Watford, the man who brought Ronaldo back to the club is sacked.

November 29, 2021: Ralf Rangnick is appointed as United's interim manager until the end of the season, with the club planning to keep him on for two years in a consultancy role. 

Ronaldo said of Rangnick in his recent interview: "They bring in a sporting director Ralf Rangnick, which is something nobody understands. This guy is not even a coach! A big club like Manchester United bringing in a sporting director surprised not only me but all the world."

December 2, 2021: In Michael Carrick's final game as caretaker manager before Rangnick officially took charge, Ronaldo scored twice in a 3-2 win over Arsenal, netting his 800th and 801st goals in his career for club and country.

February 15, 2022: A goal in a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion ends the longest drought of Ronaldo's career, one that stretched back to a December 30 defeat of Burnley and took in 588 minutes of football.

 

March 12, 2022: Having missed the Manchester derby because of a hamstring injury, Ronaldo scores a hat-trick on his return in a 3-2 win over Tottenham. The treble takes him to 807 goals, past Josef Bican's all-time record of 805. However, the Czech Republic FA claims Bican actually scored 821.

April 16-23, 2022: A hat-trick against Norwich City marks the 50th treble of Ronaldo's career, and he follows that up a week later with his 100th Premier League goal in a loss to Arsenal, which represented an emotional game for the Portugal international after he and his partner announced the death of their baby son.

April 21, 2022: Erik ten Hag is appointed as United's new manager from the 2022-23 season. On May 16, the Dutchman leaves his role at Ajax early to begin preparations for his new job.

May 22, 2022: United's 2021-22 season ends with the Red Devils in sixth, forcing them to settle for Europa League football. Ronaldo does not feature in their 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace, which rounds off a campaign in which he scored 24 goals but never meshed with Rangnick and his style of football.

July 11, 2022: Despite intense speculation around Ronaldo and agent Jorge Mendes trying to force a transfer away from United, Ten Hag insists Ronaldo is "not for sale".

July 31, 2022: Ronaldo leaves early during United's pre-season friendly with Rayo Vallecano, along with some other team-mates. Ten Hag slams that decision as "not acceptable".

October 2, 2022: Ronaldo is left on the bench in the 6-3 loss to City, a game in which United trailed 4-0 at half-time. Ten Hag claims the decision was down to his "respect" for Ronaldo’s career.

October 19, 2022: Having refused to enter the game as a substitute, Ronaldo walks down the tunnel during United's 2-0 win over Tottenham. He is suspended by the club three days later.

November 13, 2022: After missing United's EFL Cup clash with Aston Villa due to an apparent illness, Ronaldo is again absent from their squad for the final game before the World Cup break, a 2-1 win at Fulham. Later that day, the first clips from his bombshell interview are released.

 

November 16-17, 2022: Ronaldo's interview for Piers Morgan uncensored is aired across two days. Alongside his criticism of Ten Hag, Ronaldo declares United's owners the Glazer family "do not care" about the club, hits out at the team's younger players, and says former team-mate-turned-critic Wayne Rooney is jealous of his success.

Former United defender Gary Neville calls for the Red Devils to terminate Ronaldo's contract in the aftermath of his comments.

November 18, 2022: United commit to taking "appropriate steps" in response to Ronaldo's comments, intensifying speculation they could end his stay with the club.

November 21, 2022: As Ronaldo prepares for his fifth World Cup campaign with Portugal, he fields questions about his controversial interview for the first time.

"I don't have to worry what others think. I talk when I want to," Ronaldo told reporters, before describing himself as "bulletproof".

November 22, 2022: Two days before Portugal begin their World Cup campaign against Ghana, United announce Ronaldo is to leave the club with "immediate effect".

"Everyone at Manchester United remains focused on continuing the team's progress under Erik ten Hag and working together to deliver success on the pitch," read a statement from the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo's second spell at Manchester United officially came to an end on Tuesday.

United confirmed the Portugal superstar has departed Old Trafford by mutual consent, despite having six months to run on his contract.

The news comes a week on from an explosive interview in which Ronaldo declared he feels "betrayed" by United and expressed his lack of respect for manager Erik ten Hag.

While the World Cup will be top of the agenda for Ronaldo in the weeks ahead, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner must also now find a new club for the start of next year.

Which team he joins, though, remains difficult to predict.

Having unsuccessfully pushed to join a Champions League club prior to the start of the season, a return to Europe's elite competition may prove difficult once more.

However, now he is officially a free agent, that may change the situation.

Here, Stats Perform has taken a look at some potential destinations for the 37-year-old, with options both in Europe and further afield.

MLS

With the MLS season recently concluding, a move to North America would present Ronaldo with a clean slate for 2023 and would help to boost the profile of the league ahead of the World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.

Ronaldo would absolutely require a Designated Player spot for any franchise looking to make a move, eliminating a number of clubs from the equation, but David Beckham's Inter Miami have been attributed with a strong interest.

Interestingly enough, Inter Miami have also been heavily touted for a move for Lionel Messi, who sees his contract with Paris Saint-Germain expire at the end of the season. Will the two greats ever line up in the same side?

 

Sporting

Ronaldo's return to United was not as successful as fans would have wanted, but there could be better fortunes for the superstar if he returns to his homeland to rejoin boyhood club Sporting CP, where he began his career.

His initial stint with Sporting was short, with United making the move to secure his services less than a year after he made his first-team debut, which means there is not a high bar to reach from his previous spell at the club.

Sporting would also likely be able to offer Ronaldo Champions League football next season, though it would be more Europa League football this term after their third third-place finish in Group D of the Champions League.

Saudi Arabia

It has been widely reported that the only offers United received in the previous transfer window for Ronaldo's services came from Saudi Arabia, with Al Hilal said to have offered him a whopping £2million-a-week contract, with an offer from Al-Nassr also rejected.

Saudi Football Federation president Al-Misehal stated in September he believes further offers will be made to Ronaldo, with the Middle East region potentially looking to capitalise on the increased focus following the World Cup in Qatar.

While a move to Saudi would be the most lucrative for Ronaldo, it would be seen as a significant step down for him in competitiveness and one he will probably avoid.

Bayern Munich

One of the clubs linked with Ronaldo in the previous window, Bayern executives publicly stated it was not a transfer that was under consideration and the Portugal international does not fit their 'philosophy'.

However, reports have suggested Bayern held talks with Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, earlier this month before details of his explosive interview were revealed, perhaps indicating a change in the club's stance.

Bayern have seen Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting excel this season following Robert Lewandowski's sale to Barcelona, though the contract of the striker is due to expire at the end of the season and the capture of a new – and higher-profile – forward could be on the cards.

Chelsea

Ronaldo's expected departure from United does not necessarily mean he will wave goodbye to the Premier League, with Chelsea continuing to be linked with a move to snatch the 37-year-old from their domestic rivals.

New owner Todd Boehly was widely reported to have explored the possibility of a move ahead of the season but Thomas Tuchel was against the proposal – and his sacking earlier this year may have changed the situation at Stamford Bridge.

It would, however, be a surprise if Graham Potter supported the move considering his history of developing young players, while he has not appeared to be keen on the high-earning forward he already has at his disposal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Honourable mentions

Paris Saint-Germain: With Kylian Mbappe reportedly pushing for a move, PSG could have a spot available for a new superstar and the allure of partnering him with Messi could be difficult to turn down.

Napoli: Top of Serie A and heading into the World Cup break on the back of an 11-match win streak, Napoli are flying high and do not necessarily need Ronaldo – but he may be the final piece of the puzzle to bring the Scudetto to Naples.

Newcastle United: Eddie Howe's side have excelled this season and are pushing for European football, which Ronaldo could propel them towards as well as standing out as a marquee addition for the Saudi-owned side.

Kyrie Irving is never too far away from making himself the headline.

The 30-year-old returned on Sunday from the suspension imposed by the Brooklyn Nets after social media activity that appeared to promote a book and film with anti-Semitic tropes.

Following eight games on the sidelines before an eventual apology arrived, Irving was back on the court in the 127-115 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 14 points along with five rebounds.

Playing just 26 minutes at Barclays Center, he could feature more against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday as he clears off some of the rust.

However, as far as the Sixers are concerned, it will be more about those missing in action.

Former Net James Harden remains out with a foot injury, and he has now been joined by Joel Embiid, who will miss the upcoming clashes with the Nets and the Charlotte Hornets.

The Cameroonian will be a huge miss for Doc Rivers, having been in sensational form of late.

Embiid has an average of 32.6 after 12 outings this season, with his 4.6 assist average also higher than he has managed before in his career.

The 28-year-old had scored over 30 in five of his last six games, including a monstrous performance against the Utah Jazz where he put up 59 points as well as eight assists and 11 rebounds, showing just what a big hole he will leave.

Philadelphia are also still missing Tyrese Maxey, the only player other than Embiid and Harden (22.0) to be averaging over 20 points this season (22.9).

The Sixers had won three on the bounce before defeat last time out against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and face a Nets side that have experienced a bit of resurgence under coach Jacque Vaughn.

Having lost two of his first three games after replacing Steve Nash, including conceding 153 in the loss at Sacramento, Vaughn has seen his team overcome the Portland Trail Blazers and the Grizzlies in their last two.

With no Embiid, Maxey or Harden on the other side of the court, this will surely be an ideal opportunity for the Nets to build some much-needed momentum.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Philadelphia 76ers - Tobias Harris

Recent talk of a potential trade for Harris needs to be pushed to one side as the only available Sixers player to have an average in double figures this season (14.9).

He is another who has suffered recent injury problems having missed the last two games with a hip issue, but he practiced on Monday and surely will be used if possible given all the other absences.

Harris stepped up to support Maxey when Embiid and Harden were both out against the New York Knicks earlier this month, scoring 23 with nine rebounds.

Brooklyn Nets - Kevin Durant

Of course, many eyes will be on Ben Simmons against his former team, especially after his performance against Memphis, but Durant remains Brooklyn's danger man.

While the Nets have struggled for consistency, Durant has been an ever-reliable figure, having not scored fewer than 26 in any of his 17 games this season, at an average of 30.4.

KEY BATTLE - Can Sixers defense keep them in the game?

With so much attacking talent unavailable, it will inevitably mean Philadelphia's ability to keep the opposition's scoring to a minimum will be crucial.

Despite the efforts of Embiid, the Sixers have one of the worst records in the league for scoring this season, with only the Los Angeles Clippers (105.2) averaging less than their 108.6 (level with the Wizards, the Heat and the Rockets).

They do indeed have the third-best record for points against, with only the Clippers (105.4) and the Dallas Mavericks (105.3) conceding fewer than their 106.6 per game. 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Nets won three of their four meetings with the Sixers last season, although Rivers' men were victorious in their last contest in Philly, winning 110-102 at the end of December at Wells Fargo Center.

The Portland Trail Blazers pulled out a 117-110 home win against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday to bring their record to 9-4, having finally constructed a winning formula around centrepiece Damian Lillard.

While their defense was nothing special against the Spurs – winning despite allowing the visitors to shoot 51.8 per cent from the field – they are currently rated as the seventh-best defense in the league.

Having ranked 29th out of 30 teams in defensive rating last season, giving up an average of 116.3 points per 100 possessions, it was the continuation of a three-year stretch as one of the league's worst defenses. They were also 29th in the 2020-21 season (115.3) and 27th in the 2019-20 campaign (114.3).

Across those three seasons, the Trail Blazers put together a combined record of 104-124 and were floundering, despite the presence of arguably the franchise's greatest ever player, Lillard, still in his prime.

Lillard has career averages of 24.7 points and 6.6 assists per game, and at that pace he will pass Clyde Drexler as the franchise's all-time leading scorer in 12 games, as he trails by 279 points.

This season, with the addition of big wing Jerami Grant – who has averaged at least 19.2 in each of his past two seasons with the Detroit Pistons – as well as last season's arrival of jack-of-all-trades Josh Hart from the New Orleans Pelicans, and all of a sudden the Blazers may have surrounded Lillard with the best defensive cast of his career.

They now boast a 109.9 defensive rating in a year when scoring is up league-wide. 

The last time they managed a defensive rating below 110 was the 2018-19 season, where their mark of 109.5 had them 16th, but they were solid enough to give Lillard and his brilliance a chance to win them games.

That 2018-19 season was Lillard's deepest playoff run, making it to the Western Conference Finals. They had C.J. McCollum as their second scorer back then, but now have a two-pronged punch behind Lillard with Grant and 23-year-old Anfernee Simons.

Simons was the 24th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft after choosing a non-traditional route to the league, opting against playing any college or professional basketball, instead training at the famed IMG Academy.

After only playing sparingly in his first three seasons, Simons raised his average from 7.8 points per game in the 2020-21 season to 17.3 last campaign, starting 30 games as Lillard missed extended time through injuries.

He has again taken a leap this year, posting career-highs in points (22.3), assists (4.1) and made three-pointers (3.8).

As much as anything, this is a Trail Blazers team that finally makes sense when building around a star player and second-scorer who are both small guards. They have flanked them with two strong wing defenders in the starting line-up, and have committed to using a physically imposing bench brigade.

Against the Spurs, the four players to come off the bench were Nassir Little, who is a stocky six-foot-five, as well as long-armed six-foot-six rookie Shaedon Sharpe, six-foot-eight Trendon Watford and six-foot-nine Drew Eubanks.

They all have one thing in common – they know their job is to defend, and make Lillard's life as easy as possible on that end of the floor.

Lillard is still undoubtedly at a level required to lead a team deep into the playoffs, and now, in his 11th season, after years of calls for him to leave Portland and head to a powerhouse where he could be more widely seen and appreciated, he may finally have a team capable of coming along for the ride.

The Golden State Warriors have a chance to reaffirm themselves as the heavyweights in the Western Conference on Wednesday when the defending NBA champions visit the Phoenix Suns.

Steve Kerr's team have endured a difficult start to their bid to win back-to-back titles, going 6-8 across their opening 14 games.

But they produced one of their best performances of the season on Monday, crushing the San Antonio Spurs 132-95.

A meeting with the Suns, seen as one of the primary challengers to Golden State in the West going into the season, my provide a more accurate indication of whether the Warriors have turned things around.

Phoenix lost a thriller with the Miami Heat on Monday, losing 113-112 on the road to drop to 8-5 but had little issue knocking off the Warriors in their first meeting this season on October 25, prevailing 134-105.

Veteran point guard Chris Paul has missed the last three games with a heel problem, and it remains to be seen if he will be healthy to play against the Warriors.

However, even without Paul the Suns possess one of the most talented rosters in the league, and with Devin Booker continuing his outstanding form from last season, they are well-equipped to trouble a Warriors team that has yet to win on the road this campaign.
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker

Through 13 games, Booker has the highest offensive rating of his career (117.2) while his effective field goal percentage of 53.5 is his best since the 2019-20 season (54.4).

His 26.5 points per game rank 11th in the NBA, and his ability to maintain that efficiency will be key against a Warriors team whose problems have predominantly been on defense.

Golden State Warriors - Jordan Poole

Poole scored 36 points after being inserted into the starting lineup as Klay Thompson was rested against San Antonio, making a compelling argument for becoming a permanent fixture in the Warriors' starting five.

Kerr is not ready to make the that move, but, after the spark he gave Golden State last time out, Poole could play a more prominent role in a game that may yet be a preview of the Western Conference Finals if the Warriors can get back on track.
 

KEY BATTLE - Can Warriors find a winning bench combination?

The main issue with the Warriors does not concern their starting five, but their youthful bench.

Indeed, the Warriors' bench has an average plus-minus of minus 4.9, the worst in the NBA, their issues in that regard exemplified by Golden State sending former second overall pick James Wiseman to the G-League.

By contrast, the Suns' bench ranks sixth in the league with an average plus-minus of plus-1.5. If the Warriors cannot find a way to narrow that gap, it could be another difficult night for the champions.


HEAD TO HEAD

The Warriors and Suns split the season series in 2021-22, each winning once at home and once on the road. Recent history favours the Suns, though, with the Warriors having lost five of their last seven against Phoenix on the road, including the blowout defeat in Arizona last month.

The Cristiano Ronaldo saga at Manchester United took arguably its most shocking twist on Sunday with the release of an interview in which he said he feels "betrayed" by senior figures at the club.

Asked if he felt he was being forced out of Old Trafford, Ronaldo told Piers Morgan Uncensored: "Yes, not only by the coach, but by another two or three guys around the club that I felt betrayed me.

"I shouldn't say that [they were trying to get rid of me], I don't know, but yes, I feel betrayed. I felt that some people didn't want me here not only this year, but last year too."

Having made just four Premier League starts this season, Ronaldo's explosive comments would appear to push him closer to the exit door. 

How did it get to this point? Let's look back at Ronaldo's tumultuous second spell with the club with whom he made his name.

August 27, 2021: Having appeared destined to sign for Manchester City, United announce an agreement with Juventus to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford. On August 31, a two-year deal with an option for a third season is completed.

September 11, 2021His second debut sees Ronaldo face Newcastle United at home, and he marks it in style with a brace in a 4-1 win.

September 29, 2021: Champions League history for Ronaldo as he breaks the record for the most appearances (178) in the competition and fittingly scores a last-gasp winner as United beat Villarreal 2-1.

November 21, 2021: Ronaldo continued to score important goals for United in the Champions League, however, a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool and a 2-0 loss to City piled the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After a 4-1 loss at Watford, the man who brought Ronaldo back to the club is sacked.

November 29, 2021: Ralf Rangnick is appointed as United's interim manager until the end of the season, with the club confirming he would stay on for two years in a consultancy role. 

Ronaldo said of Rangnick in Sunday's interview: "They bring in a sporting director Ralf Rangnick which is something nobody understands. This guy is not even a coach! A big club like Manchester United bringing in a sporting director surprised not only me but all the world."

December 2, 2021: In Michael Carrick's final game as caretaker before Rangnick officially took charge, Ronaldo scores twice in a 3-2 win over Arsenal, netting his 800th and 801st goals in his career for club and country.

February 15, 2022: A goal in a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion ends the longest drought of Ronaldo's career, one that stretched back to a December 30 defeat of Burnley and lasted 588 minutes of football.

March 12, 2022: Having missed the Manchester derby because of a hamstring injury, Ronaldo scores a hat-trick on return in a 3-2 win over Tottenham. The treble takes him to 807 goals, past Josef Bican's all-time record of 805. However, the Czech Republic FA claims Bican actually scored 821.

April 16-23, 2022A hat-trick against Norwich City marks the 50th of Ronaldo's career, and he follows that up a week later with his 100th Premier League goal in a loss to Arsenal, an emotional game for the Portugal international having come days after he and his partner announced the death of their baby son.

April 21, 2022: Erik ten Hag is appointed as United's new manager from the 2022-23 season. On May 16, the Dutchman leaves his role at Ajax early to start preparations for his new job.

May 22, 2022: United's 2021-22 season ends with the Red Devils in sixth, seeing them have to settle for Europa League football. Ronaldo does not feature in their 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace that rounds off a campaign in which he scored 24 goals but never meshed with Rangnick and his style of football.

July 11, 2022Despite intense speculation around Ronaldo and agent Jorge Mendes trying to force a transfer away from United, Ten Hag insists Ronaldo is "not for sale".

July 31, 2022: Ronaldo leaves early during United’s pre-season friendly with Rayo Vallecano, along with some other team-mates. Ten Hag slams that decision as “not acceptable”.

October 2, 2022: Ronaldo is left on the bench in the 6-3 loss to City, a game United trailed 4-0 at half-time. Ten Hag claims the decision was down to “respect” for Ronaldo’s career.

October 19, 2022: Having refused to enter the game as a substitute, Ronaldo walks down the tunnel during United’s 2-0 win over Tottenham. He is suspended by the club three days later.

November 13, 2022: After being left out of United’s EFL Cup clash with Aston Villa with an apparent illness, Ronaldo is again absent from their squad for the final game before the World Cup break, a 2-1 win at Fulham. Later that day, his bombshell interview is released.

Cristiano Ronaldo's time at Manchester United is surely up. 

Following an explosive interview with Piers Morgan in which the superstar forward said he feels "betrayed" by senior figures at Old Trafford and does not respect manager Erik ten Hag, Ronaldo's departure seems certain.

Having tried and failed to join a new club in the past transfer window, Ronaldo may be granted his wish in January once the World Cup is done and dusted.

If that is the case, there are only a few likely destinations for the Portugal international, who is reportedly eager to continue his career at the highest level despite turning 38 in February.

 

Napoli

A return to Serie A has been touted for Ronaldo, with Napoli being named as potential suitors earlier this year after losing attacking spearheads Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens. Whether the that remains the case, with Luciano Spalletti's side eight points clear at the Serie A summit, remains to be seen.

But in Ronaldo's three years in Italy with Juventus, no player scored more Serie A goals than his tally of 81 and, despite spending the past year and a half with United, only Ciro Immobile (117) has scored more Serie A goals since 2018.

Napoli would certainly match Ronaldo's aspirations, with Champions League football post-Christmas to look forward to and a first Scudetto since the glory days of Diego Maradona a realistic target. However, the club's finances and the forward's wage demands may prove to be restrictive.

Chelsea

Finances will certainly not be a problem for Chelsea, who are at somewhat of a crossroads following Todd Boehly's takeover earlier this year. The American billionaire is said to have previously met with Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes, but no transfer went through in August.

Thomas Tuchel has since been replaced by Graham Potter in the Stamford Bridge dugout, though, and while the Englishman may not be on board with the idea of signing another ageing attacker, Boehly will very much have the final say.

Whether Ronaldo would accept a move to a Premier League rival, even if his reputation at Old Trafford has plummeted in recent months, is the biggest question regarding any hopes the Blues may have in signing the Portuguese. There is also then the small matter of United agreeing to offload to a domestic rival midway through the campaign, with both sides battling for a top-four finish.

Sporting CP

With a United homecoming already under his belt, could Sporting secure a sensational return of their own and bring Ronaldo back to where it all began? It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility – especially as he enters the final six months of his United contract.

Ronaldo had just a single season in the senior squad with Sporting before he moved to United, so he may feel he has unfinished business – and it is a side that can definitely compete, having ended a 20-year barren spell without a league title in the 2020-21 season.

That said, Sporting have endured a difficult campaign this time around as they sit fourth in the Primeira Liga and have exited the Champions League. As head coach Ruben Amorim recently stated, however, there is no harm in dreaming of seeing CR7 in the famous green and white strip once again.

 

Real Madrid

Another possible return destination... could Ronaldo wind back up in the Spanish capital?

The Champions League winners are hardly in need of another superstar forward, given they already have the world's best player in Karim Benzema, but bringing Ronaldo back to the club where he scored 450 goals would surely appeal to president Florentino Perez, who is never shy in his attempts to make statement signings.

Madrid missed out on Kylian Mbappe earlier this year, much to their frustration, and having Ronaldo in their side would undoubtedly provide some depth up top until the PSG forward is further into the new, three-year contract he signed with the French club in May.

MLS

Champions League football has been documented as the reason for Ronaldo's strong desire to leave United but, if such offers are not forthcoming, could a move to MLS be on the cards? 

Financial rules and designated player spots would make a switch complicated, with there only being a handful of teams likely to be able to make a move possible – likely to be those in Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

With the 2026 World Cup taking place in North America, bringing Ronaldo to MLS would raise the profile of the league further – and would undoubtedly be the biggest acquisition for the league since David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy in 2007.

That move marked the start of a new era of soccer in the US and has evolved considerably since, though Ronaldo's arrival would send things to a completely new level.

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