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WATCH: The key to Portugal’s success
Cristiano Ronaldo has spent the past decade playing 1B to Lionel Messi’s 1A — or is it the other way around? — in maybe the greatest “who’s greatest” debate the sport has seen. The Portuguese winger has done everything, won everything, blown everyone’s minds for so long it’s become almost commonplace.
Almost. His spectacular bicycle-kick strike to lead Real Madrid past Juventus in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals a couple months back — the goal Ronaldo ranks as the finest among the 670 and counting he’s tallied for club or country — left jaws on the floor. Just when you think you’re prepared for anything he might dish out, he’ll go where nobody’s gone before.
CR7, as he’s known around the planet, can make a strong case as the greatest of them all, as can Messi — and maybe a half-dozen who came before them — but he wants to be measured against Pelé and Diego Maradona, and his legacy is missing one thing: a World Cup trophy.
He’s captured nearly every club prize with Real Madrid or Manchester United, and mostly with both — for starters, five EPL and La Liga crowns, four UEFA Champions League titles, four FIFA Club World Cup championships — and five World Player of the Year awards, four of them in the past five years. His list of honors, achievements and records goes on and on and on.
He captained a gritty Portugal side to the European Championship two years ago, snaring one of the missing prizes, but that didn’t end as he’d hoped. Ronaldo limped off with a knee injury in the final, spent most of the game marching the sideline, instructing and cajoling his teammates as if he were a second manager.
Now he’s angling for the biggest catch, and if the Portuguese aren’t among the foremost favorites — Germany, Brazil, France, Spain — they are among a small group that could slip through if these favorites falter. There are some wonderful players for A Seleção, but it’s Ronaldo who will determine if they have a real shot.
This might be the last chance, too. Ronaldo — full name Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro — is 33, and although he’s revered for his fitness, fanatic approach to training, ascetic lifestyle and a masterful physique, there’s no certainty he’ll be around in four years. Then again, he’s been playing the best soccer of his life since hitting 30.
He’s scored 44 goals in just 43 games this season for Real Madrid — just prior to his team’s 3-1 triumph in the Champions League final over Liverpool — and that makes six of seven seasons in which he’s averaged better than a goal a game for the Meringues. He’s doing the same for Portugal: 26 goals in 26 games since the start of 2016, including 16 in qualifying for this World Cup, a total bettered globally only by the 17 Poland’s Robert Lewandowski netted.
Ronaldo is widely acknowledged to be the greatest scorer Europe has produced, and his 81 international goals for Portugal, 71 of them in competition, is No. 3 on FIFA’s all-time list. Nobody has scored more for Portugal, Real Madrid, in the Champions League, in the Euros (qualifying included) nor in the five major European leagues.
He’s always had superior tools — pace, skill, vision, instinct, intelligence, extraordinary athleticism and a heightened sense of derring-do — and he’s done remarkable things with them. Any doubts, he’ll set you straight.
“I’m the best player in history, in the good moments and the bad moments …,” CR7 told France Football this season. “I’ve never seen anyone better than me. I have always thought that. No footballer can do the things I can.
“And there’s no player more complete than me. I play well with both feet. I’m quick, powerful, and good with my head. I score goals, I make assists. There are guys who prefer Neymar or Messi, but I tell you: There’s no one more complete than me.”So he’s not all that humble. But if he can back it up in Russia this summer, he can convince the multitudes.