Editorial (June 15, 2018) — The greatest sports figures in the world are polarizing. They evoke praise bordering on the hysterical among their fans and abject rancor from their detractors. But love them or hate them, their talent is unquestioned.
Such is the case with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The iconic Portuguese attacking talisman just finished writing the most recent chapter of his legend. On a humid Friday night in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russia, against Iberian rival Spain, he remained cool, calm and collected when his team needed it most.
Cristiano Ronaldo Masterpiece Highlights World Cup Thriller
A half-hour after Spain turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 advantage in the span of four minutes, referee Gianluca Rocchi whistled Gerard Pique for a foul. It resulted in a free kick just outside the box, essentially in Ronaldo sweet spot territory. Having netted a brace already, the stage was set for him to make history with a furious strike of the ball.
That’s exactly what he did.
Take a bow, Cristiano Ronaldo. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/pJwSByuz5y
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 15, 2018
With second-half stoppage time approaching, he fired a curling shot over the Spanish wall and into a part of the goal that precluded goalkeeper David De Gea from saving it. Not only did it give him the 51st hat trick in World Cup history. The resulting 3-3 tie helped rescue a Portugal squad from what would’ve been a hugely disappointing defeat in which they blew a lead.
What culminated with Ronaldo becoming the oldest World Cup hat-trick hero began with him joining some elite company in the annals of the competition. Two minutes into the game, right back Nacho tripped him up in the box which resulted in a penalty. He left no doubt in giving Portugal an early 1-0 lead via the ensuing spot kick. As a result, he joined Pele, Uwe Seeler, and Miroslav Klose as the only players to score in four World Cups.
Cristiano Ronaldo (#POR) is the 4th player to score a goal in 4 different World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018)
He joins Miroslav Klose ('02, '06, '10, '14), Pelé ('58, '62, '66, '70) and Uwe Seeler ('58, '62, '66, '70) #WorldCup
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 15, 2018
As undeniably talented as he is, sometimes luck figures into the equation. That’s what transpired in the closing stages of the first half. In the 44th minute, a mere 20 after Diego Costa equalized for Spain, Ronaldo one-timed a shot from 19 yards out right at De Gea. Somehow, the four-time PFA goalkeeper of the year let it trickle by him and into the net. 21-year-old Gonçalo Guedes, earning just his 12th national team cap, tallied his first World Cup assist on the goal.
Spain certainly put up a fight. La Roja came onto the pitch after the halftime break with a renewed sense of purpose in the hopes of erasing Portugal’s one-goal edge. They were rewarded 10 minutes in when Diego Costa notched a brace, courtesy of a well-placed set-piece cross from David Silva which facilitated the space Costa exploited in front of goal on the finish. Then came Nacho redeeming himself after the foul which resulted in Ronaldo’s opening goal with a blistering strike to put Spain ahead.
UNBELIEVABLE STRIKE FROM NACHO! 😱
The defender makes up for his early mistake with a beauty to put Spain ahead 3-2. pic.twitter.com/r6Zokn9mQ5
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 15, 2018
But ultimately it was Ronaldo’s night at Fisht Stadium. His P.K., open play, set-piece trifecta will forever live in the lore of not only his national team but that of the world’s greatest sporting event. The aforementioned history isn’t the end of it either. For his game-tying strike gave him his 84th international goal. That tied him with Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas for the most ever among European players.
All of this is only fitting with Ronaldo. The all-time greats, regardless of sport, eventually nestle themselves into the company of fellow all-time greats across the spectrum of that sport’s history. At 33, Ronaldo is at a perfect point in his career in terms of reaching this threshold. And continuing to impress at football’s quadrennial spectacle will only add to it.
Two things are missing, though. Obviously, him playing a part in bringing Portugal its first ever World Cup will put him in an even more elite pantheon. There’s also the drive to become the highest scoring Portuguese footballer at the tournament. And as of right now, he’s three goals short of the great Eusebio in this regard.
But if he can score three against Spain, surely he has at least three more goals in him during the remainder of this competition. Portugal’s final two group games are against the presumed also-rans in Group B: Morocco and Iran. Though there’s a little less room for error given their draw with Spain coupled with Iran’s 1-0 win over Morocco, expectations are still high they can advance to the knockout stage. That means more games for Ronaldo to continue writing the final chapters of his World Cup story.
How it ends remains to be seen? With the tournament a mere two days old, plenty of storylines have yet to play out. One thing is certain, though. Ronaldo is on a mission the desired endgame of which is making even his haters consider him one of the greatest to ever play the game.