Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance Wednesday night in Portugal’s 3-2 World Cup-clinching victory over Sweden was legendary.
It was one of the greatest performances by an athlete in any sport, one in which he rises above the enormous hype and expectations and delivers the good when it is needed most on the big stage.
With Portugal clinging to a slim 1-0 lead after winning the first leg at home in Lisbon (courtesy of a Ronaldo goal by the way), the Real Madrid forward proved to be the difference in the second leg by scoring a hat-trick and booking his country’s ticket to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Portugal needed their captain to come up big last night, and did he ever!
Ronaldo’s hat trick vs Sweden (video by El Clasico)
FIFA certainly seemed to take notice, because following the match they announced that voting for Ballon d’Or (or World Footballer of the Year) will be re-opened until November 29th. In addition anyone who has already voted will be allowed to change their votes. FIFA explained that the move was in response to a low number of responses but anyone with half a brain knows their true motive – that this was done to ensure that Ronaldo would win the award!
However, in light of his virtuoso performance Wednesday night there should be little doubt who should be the Ballon d’Or favorite.
If I had a vote before Wednesday I would have gone with Franck Ribery. The French international and Bayern Munich winger was one of the driving forces behind his club’s treble in 2013 – the German Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal final, and UEFA Champions League – establishing them as the top side in the world. In August, he won the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. Lost in the shadows of Ronaldo’s heroics last night was Ribery’s performance and opening goal for France in their 3-0 second leg victory over Finland to earn World Cup qualification (France trailed 2-0 following the first leg).
However, France is not as reliant on Ribery the way Portugal is reliant on Ronaldo. To call the Seleccao a one-man team is not a stretch. But it helps when that one man is arguably the best on the planet. Consider that all four goals scored for Portugal in the playoff against Sweden belonged to Ronaldo. The way Ronaldo put an entire nation on his back to lead them to the biggest tournament in the world was a far more impressive feat than anything Ribery accomplished this year.
Voters for these prestigious awards than to be influenced by the most recent event. In college football last year, then – redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel went into Tuscaloosa and took down number one ranked Alabama. His performance in that game, immediately ascended him as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy (awarded to the best player in college football). I sense the same thing happening for Cristiano Ronaldo and the Ballon d’Or.
But this is not just your typical “prisoner of the moment” reaction. Since the start of the 2013-14 season Ronaldo has been on a torrid pace, having scored 32 goals in just 21 matches for club and country (by comparison Ribery has 14 goals in 25 matches). With Lionel Messi out injured for the remainder of 2013, Ronaldo is the player with the most momentum going right now.
Enough momentum to capture his second Ballon d’Or trophy.