Consistently going head-to-head with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi for the Ballon d’Or has not ended too well for Cristiano Ronaldo on most occasions. This year though, he has outdone himself and the trophy may finally find its way into his arms again, for the first time since 2008.
Frank Ribery also provides stiff competition for the Portuguese skipper after his trophy laden year with Bayern Munich. Ronaldo netted 62 times in all competitions in the last season and has already scored 29 times in this one. We take a look back at his top 5 performances in 2013:
1. Copa Del Rey Semi-Final vs Barcelona
Date: 26 February 2013
Venue: Camp Nou
After drawing the first leg 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu, the pressure was on Real Madrid as Barcelona had the advantage of an away goal. Ronaldo got Los Blancos off to a great start, when he won and converted a penalty in the 13th minute. He was chopped down by Gerard Pique in the box and fired the spot kick hard and low, sending keeper Jose Pinto the wrong way.
Barcelona toiled to get back into the game but grew increasingly frustrated by Madrid's robust performance. Ronaldo then doubled the lead in the 57th minute, when a long ball by Sami Khedira was seized upon by Angel Di Maria who had his shot blocked by Pinto. The rebound fell to Madrid's number seven and he tucked it away with minimum fuss.
Raphael Varane then headed home from Mesut Ozil’s cross to make it 3-0 to the visitors. Jordi Alba’s late goal was only a consolation for the Catalans who crashed out of the competition on home soil. Ronaldo ensured that Madrid got one up on their rivals by putting in a big performance in a crucial game.
2. World Cup Qualifier vs Northern Ireland
Date: 7 September 2013
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast
In an ill-tempered and enthralling clash that saw three red cards dished out, Portugal got their act together to beat the Northern Ireland. Bruno Alves had put Portugal ahead before Gareth McAuley and Jaime Ward scored in quick succession to make it 2-1. Portugal also had Helder Postiga sent off after an apparent head-butt.
Chris Brunt then got his marching orders for his second yellow card close to the 60th minute, and the playing field was even again. Miguel’s shot was saved by Roy Carroll but from the ensuing corner Ronaldo rose highest to head home. Fabio Coentrao then put a cross into the box in the 77th minute and an unmarked Ronaldo made the Irish pay again, heading into the corner of the net.
Kyle Lafferty was sent off later on and the Portuguese captain finished things off with a trademark free kick. He broke the late Eusebio’s tally of 41, finishing with 43 goals and also the match ball. A magnificent performance.
3. UEFA Champions League vs Galatasaray
Date:17 September 2013
Venue: Turk Telecom Arena
Madrid absolutely crushed the Turkish champions in this European encounter. Isco and Karim Benezema first scored the opening two goals, supplied by Di Maria in front of the hostile Turkish fans. Ronaldo who was relatively quiet in the first half, got his first goal soon after the hour mark, with Di Maria dodging the keeper and crossing to Isco who cut the ball back to him for the simplest of finishes from two yards out.
Ronaldo grabbed his second like a predator, reacting quickest after Sergio Ramos’ header had been saved by Fernando Muslera and the rebound fell to him. Benzema then scored from Ronaldo’s cross from the far left and the contest was put to bed. With Madrid leading 5-1.
There was still time for two late goals though as Umut Bulut grabbed the consolation for the Turkish side before Ronaldo scored the best goal of the match-skipping past three defenders in splendid fashion before emphatically smashing home. He finished with 3 goals and an assist, and let’s not forget - the match ball.
4. La Liga game vs Real Sociedad
Date: 9 November 2013
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu
Madrid butchered Real Sociedad in this match, really putting on a show. The blitz started in the 12th minute when Ronaldo scored from Benzema’s pinpoint delivery from the left wing at the far post. He returned the favour soon after, turning provider for the Frenchman five minutes later. Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when Markel Bergara conceded a penalty for a hand-ball with 26 minutes played, allowing the irrepressible Ronaldo to net his second of the game.
Madrid had already sealed the result when Khedira scored to make it 4-0 before half-time. Sociedad pulled one back, but their misery was not complete as there was still time for Ronaldo to smash home a fantastic free kick that sailed into the corner, 15 minutes from time. It was his sixth hat-trick of the season and capped a memorable evening consisting of 3 goals and an assist.
5. World Cup play-off vs. Sweden
Date: 19 November 2013
Venue: Friends Arena, Solna
Portugal came into this do-or-die fixture leading 1-0 on aggregate courtesy of a lone goal scored by Ronaldo in the first leg back in Lisbon. The first half ended with the score 0-0. Portugal had the better chances and Ronaldo came close on a number of occasions. In the second half, he finally took his chance and silenced the stadium by latching on to Joao Moutinho's perfect through ball and smashing in an angled drive.
This was billed as the clash between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Swede stepped up to the plate soon after, scoring two quickfire goals, the first from Kim Kallstrom’s corner and the other from a drilled free kick from the edge of the area. The scoreline read 2-1 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate but Portugal still led on away goals.
It was the 72nd minute and the Swedes were optimistic of their chances with momentum on their side. However, the Seleccao captain then made sure that his team was going to the World Cup in Brazil. Ronaldo latched on to Hugo Almeida’s through ball to fire beyond Andreas Isaksson before rounding the Sweden goalkeeper a minute later and scoring another to complete his hat-trick and spark wild celebrations. He became the joint highest goalscorer for his country and it was arguably his best performance till date for Portugal.
With Messi missing games through injury and not being able to keep up, Ronaldo has a great opportunity to win the Ballon d'Or as his individual performances may be enough to outweigh Ribery's silverware. If there is one man who deserves the award for sheer consistency and match winning displays, coupled with mind-boggling statistics, it’s him.