World Cup All in the Game: Curse of the Ballon d’Or winner

Bizarre stats work against Costa Rica but in favour of Japan

Cristiano Ronaldo without a club.

Lionel Messi’s Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia.

Luka Modric’s Croatia played out a scoreless draw with Morocco.

Karim Benzema has been ruled out of the competition for France with a thigh injury.


It has been quite the World Cup so far for the last four Ballon d’Or winners. And it doesn’t get any better if you add Robert Lewandowski, who was favourite to win the award in 2020 before the scheme was paused for a year because of the pandemic. He missed a penalty in Poland’s draw with Mexico.

Either way, the latest episode of the Ronaldo melodrama airs on Thursday when Portugal face Ghana. Whatever way it was all meant to work out, it’s unlikely Ronaldo planned on playing in his last World Cup as a man without a club.

It’s certainly an issue Portugal would rather to not have hanging over their camp. But perhaps at this stage they accept that accompanying the genius is the circus. In Portugal’s press conference prior to their opener with Ghana, manager Fernando Santos said Ronaldo’s Manchester United woes had not been discussed.

“The conversation hasn’t come up at any moment. If the players are talking about that in their rooms alone, I can’t say. They can do what they want but the important thing is they are absolutely focused and realistic about the challenges they are facing.”

If there wasn’t enough stirring in the pot already, on Wednesday Ronaldo was fined £50,000 and banned for two matches by the FA for knocking a phone out of a 14-year-old’s hand while coming off the field after United’s defeat to Everton at Goodison Park in April.

Given how the more experienced players have been struggling to make an impact in this World Cup, RTÉ's Clare MacNamara asked her panel if perhaps this was no tournament for old men? It was a fair question.

But none of them are old, just older.

And while Ronaldo might not have a club right now, he certainly has a cause.

Number: 26.2

That is the percentage of possession Japan had in their 2-1 victory over Germany. And according to Opta Analyst it is the second lowest possession percentage by a winning team in the history of the World Cup. The lowest being South Korea in 2018, who had 26 percent possession in their 2-0 win over……Germany.


“Our goal was to live for another day as defeat in the first match ends your hopes in the competition. We did our best, the goal was not to lose. I’ve only been here for two months and I’m proud of the players.”

Morocco manager Walid Regragui offers a bleak outlook for Argentina and Germany, after his side’s scoreless draw with Croatia in their opening World Cup game.

Blowing the whistle on the hand of god

Ali Bin Nasser was the referee of the 1986 World Cup encounter between Argentina and England. It is remembered as one of the most iconic games in the history of the competition – a game that produced two Diego Maradona goals which even now, 36 years later, continue to be relived in football discussions across the globe. In an interview with FourFourTwo magazine, the Tunisian referee of that game put forward his take on the infamous Hand of God goal.

“I didn’t get a clear view, so I awarded the goal and started heading back towards the centre circle,” said Bin Yasser. “But all the while, I kept one eye on my assistant. I waited for him to give me a reason to disallow the goal, but he didn’t say anything. I had my doubts but my colleague was much better placed than me.”

Before adding: “At the end of the game, coach Bobby Robson said I’d done a good job but blamed my assistant.”

Oh Canada

A rock cover of the Beatles classic ‘Come Together’ was recorded by Crown Lands for Canada’s World Cup voyage to Qatar. But in the country’s only previous appearance at football’s greatest event, Canada’s contribution for the 1986 tournament in Mexico was a rather questionable, if somewhat quaint, folksy number, ‘Oh Canada We’ll Proudly Play for You.’

The lyrics went: “1000 to 1 are the odds they’re giving us, A lot of them are in for a surprise, We’ve got a mighty team that no one else has seen, The stars of Canada are on the rise, Who can lay down odds on the hearts of 11 men, Oh Canada our hearts are ringing true, We’ve won for you before and we’ll win for you again, Oh Canada we’ll proudly play for you.”

Canada lost all three of their games in the group stages and returned home without scoring a goal.

Costa counting

The numbers didn’t add up for Costa Rica against Spain.

They had zero shots on goal, zero corners, 18 per cent possession and conceded seven goals. The 7-0 result is Spain’s biggest World Cup victory ever. Fair to say Costa Rica will struggle to progress in the tournament from this position, with games against Japan and Germany to come.

“We are worried that the group won’t get out this hole that we are in,” Costa Rica manager Luis Fernando Suarez told reporters afterwards.

“I have to admit that we were bad and we all have to take account of what happened.”

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times