DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 24: Osman Bukari of Ghana celebrates after scoring their team's second goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Ghana at Stadium 974 on November 24, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Qatar’s futuristic Stadium 974 had over 40,000 in attendance – per the official numbers – when Portugal faced Ghana in their group opener at the 2022 Fifa World Cup last Thursday.
In the immediate moments after Osman Bukari scored the Black Stars’ second goal in a 3-2 defeat, however, he only had — in his mind, at least — one other man for company in that vast arena: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Bukari, a lively winger like Ronaldo was in his prime, had grown up venerating the Portuguese legend. Even now, with Ronaldo no longer at the peak of his powers, Bukari’s estimation of him hasn’t diminished one bit.
It was, then, already a matter of indescribable pride that Bukari, brought on for his eighth cap, got to share the pitch with Ronaldo for some 11 minutes, before the latter had his part in in the fixture truncated by substitution.
A minute later, with Ronaldo now reduced to a spectator (he ended up doing a little more, though, acting as a shadow coach and all), Bukari’s day — his bow on the world stage — got even better.
Ghana defender Baba Rahman’s industry won possession on the left flank, before a fine piece of skill saw him sweep the ball over the Portuguese backline to the far-post, where Bukari was waiting. The Red Star Belgrade man applied a header that would have made Ronaldo, a master of the art of heading a football, immensely proud.
It didn’t, of course, and Ronaldo’s reaction on the bench proved that, indeed, the goal had just the opposite effect on his mood; Bukari’s simple finish had shrunk Portugal’s lead by one, setting up a finale healthy for nobody’s nervous system – except, perhaps, if you were rooting for Ghana.
But then came the 23-year-old’s next act, a choice of celebration that must have grated on the opposition, especially Ronaldo.
Bukari, as he sped towards the corner-flag, initially appeared to favour Ronaldo’s latest offering to the world of sport, placing his hands on his chest. Eventually, though, he ended up in that pose the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has made his trademark since 2013.
It was, in fact, with that very posture – accompanied by a far louder chant of ‘Siu!’ – that Ronaldo had marked his own history-making moment earlier in the game. Bukari’s version, though, as implied a couple of paragraphs ago, didn’t go down nearly as well.
He has taken to social media to correct any impression that his jubilation was a not-so-subtle attempt to slight the man it mirrored and, in fact, honoured. But some haven’t hesitated in letting Bukari know that apology was wrongly addressed; in their collective opinion, they, his own compatriots, ought to have been the recipients.
Indulging as he did, after all, isn’t the sort of thing you do when your team is still down, with a chance of getting a result and few minutes to do so; in such instances, we’re more accustomed to seeing the scorer follow the ball right into the goal, pick it up – usually not without a show of resistance from a player or two on the team that just conceded – in a bid to force a prompt restart.
Maybe, though, it isn’t Bukari who got it all wrong. Maybe it’s everyone who appears to have blown the incident out of context – anyone who has hastened to abuse and to accuse, rather than reflect on what this could have meant for the kid at the centre of the storm.
It’s only once you get to score your first World Cup goal – quite the feat, if you saw Poland forward Robert Lewandowski’s response to finally reaching that milestone on Saturday in his fifth game of trying – and it’s definitely not everyday you get to do so in front of your “idol”, who just happens to be one of the all-time greats.
A matter of seconds, really, before Bukari was back to business with his teammates, in search of an equaliser that never came.
It isn’t, I know, at all tolerable for a footballer to fail to read the room and indulge at just the wrong moment. But, well, football isn’t always rational, and footballers are bound to get caught up in the emotions that make this sport the colourful spectacle it is. It’s why, every now and then, these guys do cross the line… even often when celebrating goals.
Bukari – in that instant, which he shared almost exclusively with Ronaldo, his childhood hero – certainly didn’t.