By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It was an all-too familiar feeling for Cristiano Ronaldo. Another year and another trip to Zurich had brought yet another disappointment as the Portuguese missed out on Monday to nemesis Lionel Messi at the ceremony for football’s foremost award for individual excellence – the Fifa Ballon d’Or.
Mocked, laughed at and even roundly ridiculed by some as his obvious disappointment was captured on camera for the fourth year in a row, Ronaldo was left firmly and very publicly in the shadows of Barcelona’s brilliant forward. Losing out to Leo again had hurt him badly and there were concerns over how he would recover from this latest Switzerland setback.
But his response was emphatic. Inside two minutes Ronaldo had cut in from the left and unleashed a dipping drive which was still swerving away from Celta goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez as it nestled into the far corner from fully 25 yards out. There was no question of sulking or sadness now – the Portuguese had a point to prove.
After seeing a decent penalty appeal waved away, Cristiano then latched onto a fine pass from the impressive Luka Modric to volley a second midway through the half and beat Alvarez a third time before the interval, only to see his strike incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Madrid had failed to overturn a first-leg deficit in the Copa del Rey or the Champions League since 2002 and there were some nervy moments at 3-2 up in this tie, especially after Sergio Ramos was dismissed for a second yellow card with 18 minutes remaining. Celta sensed a chance and Madrid twice needed superb saves from the recalled Iker Casillas to keep their noses in front.
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But following Iker’s interventions it was Ronaldo who sealed the win right at the end, slotting inside the near post with an angled drive after 87 minutes after racing onto Gonzalo Higuain’s ball. Madrid had now scored four times in the tie and Cristiano had bagged them all, and the Portuguese provided another for Sami Khedira moments later to end the night with a hat-trick and an assist in what was a near-perfect performance. There had also been plenty of incisive passing, dynamic dribbling and unselfish team play from the former Manchester United man, back to his breathtaking best.
After the game, Ronaldo called for unity and an end to the jeering of under-fire boss Jose Mourinho, and even called to check on Celta’s Hugo Mallo after the defender departed on a stretcher with a serious knee injury earlier on in the evening, earning praise from Madrid assistant Aitor Karanka, Celta coach Paco Herrera and Real legend Emilio Butragueno, whose 171 strikes for the club had been surpassed earlier on as Cristiano climbed to seventh on the club’s all-time list of goalscorers, overtaking Pirri in the process.
This was the Cristiano Ronaldo everybody wants to see. Deadly in front of goal, brilliant but unselfish, generous, caring for others and preaching a team ethos, the Portuguese left the pitch to an overwhelming ovation at the final whistle. “Cristiano, Balon de Oro,” roared the Madrid fans in approval and their thoughts were echoed on Twitter by Gareth Bale, a man occasionally linked as a possible replacement the Portuguese at the Bernabeu. “He’s the best all-round player in the world right now”, the Welshman wrote, tipping the forward for the next Ballon d’Or prize – only two days after he had missed out on the 2012 award.
Ronaldo already has five goals in two games this year after scoring the vital third and fourth in the dramatic 4-3 win over Real Sociedad last weekend. In this mood, anything is possible for the Portuguese in 2013.
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