Cristiano Ronaldo put his enormous talent on display with a hat-trick in World Cup qualifying, and the reward may be the Ballon d’Or after a voting deadline extension yesterday improved his chances of pipping Lionel Messi for the honour.
Ronaldo produced a spectacular individual performance on Tuesday evening, scoring all three goals and guiding Portugal into the next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil with a 3-2 victory in Sweden.
The Real Madrid forward has scored 66 goals in 2013, but the last three may be the boost he needs to upstage Messi after Fifa unexpectedly extended the voting period for the Ballon d’Or to 29 November.
Fifa said they were reopening the deadline due to the low number of responses received by last Friday’s original deadline, and invited voters to switch their preference. Ronaldo last night became the favorite to beat Messi and Bayern Munich forward Franck Ribery for the world player-of-the-year award, which will be presented on 13 January.
Portuguese and Spanish sports dailies splashed Ronaldo’s photo across their front pages yesterday, while Fifa president Sepp Blatter expressed his congratulations to Ronaldo in a tweet referring to his “fantastic performance”.
Ronaldo has scored 13 goals in six games since Blatter said last month that he preferred Barcelona’s Argentine Messi. Ronaldo has scored 32 goals in all competitions this season.
“Every year I show what I’m about. I’ve scored 40 or 50 goals a season and that’s not enough for everyone. I’m not obsessed with the [Ballon d’Or],” Ronaldo said on Tuesday night. “I did my job as I have been doing all season. I don’t have to answer to anybody. I do my talking on the field.”
Ronaldo, who won the award in 2008, has watched as Messi has won the award the last four years. But Messi has the edge in trophies over Ronaldo after Barcelona won the Spanish league last season. Ribery helped Bayern win a treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League titles.
Blatter’s slight – when he said Ronaldo spent more time at the hairdresser and compared his on-field personality to that of a commander – has seemed to energise the 28-year-old, who also equalled Pauleta as Portugal’s record scorer with 47 goals.
At the Friends Arena in Sweden, Portuguese fans carried a banner reading “Commander Ronaldo” in response to Blatter’s comments, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic also appeared to applaud Ronaldo’s heroics.
“Colossal,” “The greatest,” “We have super man,” “Out of this world,” “Alo Brasil,” were some of the headlines that greeted the Portuguese nation yesterday morning, with all the newspaper reports giving Ronaldo a maximum ten out of ten for his magnificent display.
Ronaldo’s treble took him to the top of Portugal’s all-time scoring chart level on 47 goals with Pauleta. With 109 caps, 18 fewer than Portugal’s record holder Luis Figo, Madeira-born Ronaldo is destined to break all the national team records.
Ronaldo’s scoring run comes with Messi sidelined by injury and unable to add to his own collection of awe-inspiring goals. Messi is expected to be out until the end of next month because of a hamstring injury.
The Barca forward said yesterday that his left leg was pain-free as he collected his third Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals in Europe’s domestic leagues last season.
Messi, who has scored 14 goals in 16 games this season, was not asked about Ronaldo’s performance or his Ballon d’Or prospects during the presentation, when questions were not allowed.
Ronaldo will take the field again on Saturday when Real Madrid play Almeria. Few would bet against another goal or two.