Cristiano Ronaldo has won almost everything in his career: The Ballon d’Or, World Player of the Year, La Liga titles, Premier League titles, Champions League titles, and a European Championship. There’s just one last thing he hasn’t won yet: the World Cup. In fact, we’ve yet to even really see Ronaldo at his best in a World Cup. In Russia, he’s making his fourth and possibly last run in a World Cup — the most important of his career.
At 33 years old and with 16 first-team club seasons under his belt, there are probably not a lot of miles left on Ronaldo’s legs. But he’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career, scoring 43 club goals and racking up goals in the Champions League to an almost unheard extent. This is probably the best form he’s come into the World Cup with — and maybe even the best Portugal team he’s gotten to work with at a World Cup — in his career.
On Friday, in his team’s opening game, Ronaldo was at his best. Spain and Portugal drew 3-3, but La Roja was the far superior team on the night. The only reason Portugal got a point was the brilliance of Ronaldo — he scored a hat trick, including this 87th minute free kick.
#MundialTelemundo ¡Un pedazo de gol! Así narra @AndresCantorGOL el "Hat-trick" de @Cristiano para el empate de #POR sobre #ESP pic.twitter.com/FuJVNrzL2n— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) June 15, 2018
The biggest story around Portugal is always going to be Ronaldo.
For more than a decade, he’s been one of the absolute best players in the world, winning titles and scoring phenomenal goals. As the conversation turns from Ronaldo’s standing among the current greats in the game to his place among the all-time greats — spoiler alert: he’s probably at least a top-five all-time player — we have to include just how much he’s done to promote and expand the game just by being Cristiano Ronaldo.
There is not a better dribbler of the ball in world football than Ronaldo, with his ability to use absolutely divine control of the ball at his feet to befuddle and embarrass defender after defender throughout his career. Ronaldo may not have the explosive pace he once did thanks to all those miles on his legs; but he’s so smart about how he utilizes positioning and smaller runs to create space that he’s arguably even more lethal than he was when he was younger and faster. At every point in his career, Ronaldo has had a knack for popping up in the biggest moments with something spectacular, like his jaw-dropping bicycle kick against Juventus in the Champions League semifinal this spring, something few other players would have tried, much less pulled off so incredibly well on that stage.
Some people may loathe Ronaldo for being the suave, sculpted god of athletics that he is, but that same nature also makes him an incredible draw for the sport. Just look at how many kids there are running around wearing his shirts, trying to copy his dribbling, trying to pull off the same incredible shots he makes look so effortless. Look at all the philanthropic work Ronaldo has done throughout his career, helping dozens of causes both with his money — like donating heavily to causes helping tsunami victims in Banda Aceh in 2007, and taking £100,000 gained by winning a libel suit against The Sun and giving it to a cancer treatment center — and by using his fame to draw more attention to them. Ronaldo’s legacy goes far beyond the pitch, and the sport is going to lose a fantastic ambassador when he eventually retires.
How has Ronaldo performed at the World Cup?
But let’s not retire Ronaldo yet. While he’s still here, he’s going to do everything he can to continue being one of the best players on the face of this earth and continue winning as many titles as possible. He’s always hungry to prove he can do absolutely anything, and you know that he’ll be eager to shake off the shaky history he’s had at the World Cup. Portugal made the semifinals in his first trip in 2006, but his performances were mediocre for much of the tournament, and he was jeered off the pitch in the semifinal and third-place games. The 2010 World Cup saw Ronaldo struggle again as Portugal was bounced in the round of 16. In 2014, he fought through a leg injury and looked far from his best as Portugal failed to escape the group stage.
This time, though, Ronaldo is coming in healthy and in incredible form, with a Portugal team that won Euro 2016 two years ago and looks even better now than it did then. Anyone who’s seen Ronaldo’s career knows that he’s going to be out to prove a point, and with such a good team around him Portugal are going to be a much bigger threat than they’ve been given credit for. Even if he has to put the team on his shoulders and drag his teammates by himself, Ronaldo is going to do everything he can to win more glory for himself and his country.
And, as always, he’s going to look damn good doing it.