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Journalism of Courage

The Cristiano Ronaldo goal that wasn’t: How technology came to settle debate on Bruno Fernandes strike

Cristiano Ronaldo thought he headed the ball into the back of the net for Portugal's first goal against Uruguay. The goal was awarded to Bruno Fernandes, who crossed the ball into the middle, and it was later confirmed by Fifa and Adidas that there was no touch from Ronaldo.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the World Cup group H soccer match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Portugal defeated Uruguay 2-0 at the Fifa World Cup on Monday. The game itself was not the most entertaining: Portugal was dominant in possession but a compact Uruguay would stifle the opponent’s goal-scoring threat while creating nothing whatsoever for themselves. However, one memorable incident from the game has amused, angered and irritated fans in equal measure. In one of this World Cup’s more humorous controversies, Cristiano Ronaldo would vehemently claim Portugal’s first goal only for it to be awarded to his compatriot and former clubmate Bruno Fernandes.

The Indian Express explains what happened on the pitch and the drama that followed off it.

The goal, as it happened

In the 54th minute of the match, Bruno Fernandes hit a slightly looping right-footed curler from just outside the right corner of Uruguay’s box. As the ball neared the goalkeeper, Ronaldo rushed into the box, attempting to head the ball. The ball ended up in the net and it appeared initially that a glancing header from the forward had deflected the ball towards the goal. Ronaldo celebrated wildly, running to the corner flag with his arms wide open in his trademark celebration.

As the Portuguese players huddled together to celebrate, commentators praised Ronaldo for his goal-scoring instincts, excited fans in the Lusail Stadium chanted his name, and Ronaldo fans expressed their happiness on social media. His new pal Piers Morgan, to whom Ronaldo gave an explosive interview about his tribulations at Manchester United, tweeted “BOOM!!!!” and tagged Ronaldo with a picture of him celebrating.

This was the 37-year-old’s second goal in as many games in this World Cup. Also, a record-equalling goal for the former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward, drawing level with legendary Eusebio in terms of goals scored for Portugal in World Cups. Except it was not.

The stadium announcer made a surprising announcement. The goal had been awarded to Fernandes and not Ronaldo. Fernandes, who thought he had an assist, was equally confused. According to Reuters, Fernandes told reporters after the game, “The feeling I had was that Cristiano touched the ball. I was passing the ball to him.”

Did Ronaldo get the touch? Social media has a field day

Being one of the biggest footballers on the planet, anything involving Ronaldo always invites strong responses. His legion of fans immediately took to social media to express their disappointment over the goal not being awarded to him. Fans cried foul as certain camera angles did make it seem like Ronaldo got the slightest of touches. They even found a name for this goal: “the Hair of God” after Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal.

Piers Morgan would double down, tweeting “Ronaldo should have the ball tested for his hairspray.” After the game, he would post an image of Ronaldo seemingly getting the final touch, telling Fifa to give him the goal.

At this point in time, the controversy was bordering the absurd. Portugal had won the game and qualified for the next round. Who scored the goal should not have mattered. While Portuguese players and coach Fernando Santos reflected this sentiment, the internet was not going to let go.


While Ronaldo fans were busy drumming up conspiracy theories, his detractors filled the internet with jokes and memes. Many said that it was extremely petty for Ronaldo to claim a goal that he did not score, with some going as far as saying that he was trying to “rob” his teammate of a goal. A video that was doing rounds on social media showed Ronaldo arguing with the referee post-game about the goal.

Fifa and Adidas step in

Normally, there would be no resolution to such a controversy. Fans on either side of the aisle would firmly believe that they are in the right and present pictures from different angles to prove their point. After all, regardless of whether it was a goal or not, it was a close affair and just based on visual evidence, both sides could make a case for themselves.

However, Al Rihla, the ball that is being used in the World Cup has a piece of technology which was able to provide more clarity.


“In the match between Portugal and Uruguay, using the Connected Ball Technology housed in adidas’s Al Rihla Official Match Ball, we are able to definitively show no contact on the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo for the opening goal in the game,” read a statement provided to ESPN from Fifa on behalf of Adidas.

This technology is being used in this World Cup to help determine offsides. The ball houses a 500 Hz inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor, which can determine the exact point of contact with the ball. IMU sensors work by detecting linear acceleration using one or more accelerometers and rotational rate using one or more gyroscopes. Inside the football, the sensor constantly sends a signal to a computer. When the ball is struck, there is a spike in the “heartbeat” representing sudden acceleration.

Image showing a ‘spike in the heartbeat’ when Fernandes crosses the ball (Adidas/FIFA) Image showing ‘no heartbeat’ when the ball passes Ronaldo (Adidas/FIFA)

Fifa released pictures of the footage with information from the IMU sensor attached. While there was a spike when Bruno hit the ball, Ronaldo’s “header” did not cause a spike, showing that no external pressure had been applied to the ball at the moment it passed Ronaldo’s head.

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Ronaldo’s fans were left disappointed as his detractors continued the meme fest. Tuesday evening, reports emerged that the Portuguese Football Association would “present evidence” to Fifa proving that Ronaldo had indeed scored the goal. It remains to be seen whether it does so after Fifa and Adidas’s statement. For now, Ronaldo still awaits his ninth goal in World Cups with each game bringing even more desperation than before.

First published on: 30-11-2022 at 12:30 IST
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