Sonny vs. Ronaldo in tantalizing individual battle in Qatar

November 30, 2022

When South Korea and Portugal square off in their final group stage match of the ongoing FIFA World Cup on Friday, there will be a battle within a battle: the clash of the two titans between South Korean captain Son Heung-min and his Portuguese counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kickoff for this Group H contest is 6 p.m. Friday at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, or midnight Saturday in South Korea.

They both wear No. 7 and both have won the Golden Boot as the scoring champion in the Premier League, with Ronaldo having done so with Manchester United in the 2007-2008 season and Son following in that path for Tottenham Hotspur in the 2021-2022 campaign.

Son has openly talked about his admiration for Ronaldo, one of the all-time greats and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s top player. This will be the first international meeting between the two stars, who have faced each other in club action. Given that Ronaldo is 37 and is likely playing in his final World Cup, this may also end up being their last showdown on football’s grandest stage.

And it comes with so much at stake. South Korea, with a draw and a loss in the books, must beat Portugal just to have a chance to progress to the round of 16. Portugal are already through to the knockouts, thanks to two straight wins, but they will try to win Group H and avoid possibly facing world No. 1 Brazil in the round of 16.

Son has played the first two matches in Qatar with a protective mask on his surgically repaired face. He suffered multiple fractures around his left eye in a collision with an opposing player during a UEFA Champions League match on Nov. 1, and underwent surgery three days later. He played his first World Cup match in Qatar 20 days after his surgery.

Though he hasn’t performed to his typically high level, Son has still been an inspirational leader for the Taeguek Warriors. He even attempted a header during South Korea’s 3-2 loss to Ghana on Monday.

Ronaldo scored a penalty in a 3-2 win over Ghana last Thursday and has now scored in five World Cup tournaments. But he has also been a source of distractions for Portugal.

Ronaldo and Manchester United recently agreed to part ways during the player’s second tour of duty, after the player gave scathing criticism of the club and coach Erik ten Hag during a television interview. During Portugal’s training camp in Doha, Ronaldo’s teammates had to field repeated questions about their captain and how Ronaldo’s club situation was affecting the national team. There were also rumors that Ronaldo and another Man United player for Portugal, Bruno Fernandes, weren’t seeing eye to eye.

Whatever differences they may or may not have had, the talented duo have pushed Portugal to the knockouts. Son will hope to do the same Friday.