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Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 100th European goal on Wednesday to give holders Real Madrid a 2-1 comeback win at 10-man Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final, first-leg.
“I wanted to reach this record. To be able to reach this mark is an honour and against a team like Bayern it is even better,” Ronaldo, who scored both goals, told BeIN Sport Spain.
Arturo Vidal headed Bayern into a first-half lead, but then skied a penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time before Ronaldo volleyed the defending champions’ level.
Bayern played the last half an hour a man down after centre-back Javi Martinez was sent off for two fouls on Ronaldo within three minutes of each other.
Four-time world player of the year Ronaldo then slotted in the winner between goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s legs for the winner 13 minutes from time.
“We believe we can still do it, we were the better team in the first half, could have made it 2-0 or 3-0,” Neuer told ZDF.
But Bayern were outplayed in the second-half and most of Real’s 23 shots on goal came after the break.
“We had everything under control in the first half, but didn’t use the room consistently,” said captain Philipp Lahm. “The tipping point was the red card.”
Security was tight at the Allianz Arena in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks on the Borussia Dortmund team bus and both teams arrived with a heavy police escort.
There was a large police presence and inside the stadium there was polite applause when the announcer made reference to Dortmund’s ordeal in the preceeding 24 hours.
Bayern suffered a blow before kick-off when top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, who has netted 38 goals this season, dropped out with a bruised shoulder and Thomas Muller deputised as striker.
Bayern were also missing injured Germany defender Mats Hummels against Real’s formidable BBC attack – Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.
Bayern went ahead on 25 minutes when playmaker Thiago Alcantara swung in a corner from the right which Vidal powered through Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s hands.
The Chile midfielder could have added a second when he headed Arjen Robben’s cross wide of the post soon after.
Real made a poor start, rarely threatening Germany’s goalkeeper Neuer, back after minor foot surgery a fortnight ago.
A strong drive from Ronaldo on 41 minutes which Neuer blocked having palmed a Benzema header onto the woodwork with 18 minutes played were their best first-half chances.
Vidal could have finished with a first-half hat-trick when he stepped up to take a penalty after Dani Carvajal’s handball from a Franck Ribery shot.
However, the Chilean smashed the spot-kick high over the crossbar.
It was a miss Bayern were soon to regret.
Real were level two minutes after the break when Carvajal found space on the right and fired in a cross which Ronaldo volleyed past Neuer.
Bale, who has laboured with an ankle injury recently, came off on 58 minutes and Real raised the tempo after he trudged off.
Having already picked up a yellow card for pulling Ronaldo back on 58 minutes, Martinez was shown a red for again fouling the Portugal captain just three minutes later.
Real’s superstar then hit the winner as substitute Marco Asensio, on for Bale, put in a low pass for Ronaldo to tap the ball home between Neuer’s legs.
Real defender Sergio Ramos had the ball in the Bayern net with time running out, but the goal was ruled offside but the Spaniards have the upper hand for the second leg at home next Tuesday.
The Netherlands’ hopes of reaching the World Cup finals suffered a major setback on Saturday when the three-time runners-up slumped to a shock 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria.
The loss left the Dutch six points behind Group A leaders France, who beat Luxembourg 3-1, and down in fourth spot, three back from Sweden and two off Bulgaria with just the group winners guaranteed a place in the 2018 finals in Russia.
“What can I tell you? We came here with good intentions, but it has become a nightmare,” Dutch skipper Arjen Robben said.
Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo took his international tally to 70 goals as European champions Portugal beat Hungary 3-0 to stay in second spot behind Switzerland in Group B.
Belgium needed a goal two minutes from time by Romelu Lukaku to salvage a 1-1 draw against nine-man Greece as they stayed two points clear in Group H, although Roberto Martinez’s team lost their 100 percent record in the process.
In Sofia, Bulgaria stunned the Dutch with two goals in the first 20 minutes, both coming from Spas Delev.
Delev pounced on a mistake by 17-year-old Matthijs De Ligt, Holland’s youngest debutant since 1931, who misjudged a pass and allowed the striker to slot the ball past Jeroen Zoet.
Delev then made it 2-0 when he unleashed a stinging right-foot drive past Zoet.
The Dutch dominated large parts of the rest of the game but were thwarted by a solid Bulgarian defence while goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov pulled off a super save in the second period to deny Davy Klaassen.
Group A table-toppers France, the 1998 champions and last year’s Euro 2016 runners-up, saw Olivier Giroud open the scoring in Luxembourg just before the half-hour mark.
Luxembourg levelled after 34 minutes thanks to Aurelien Joachim’s penalty, his country’s first goal against France in 39 years.
But the minnows’ joy was short-lived as Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann restored France’s lead, also from the spot, just four minutes later.
Arsenal star Giroud scored his second of the evening after 77 minutes after being set up by Benjamin Mendy.
“With us, Olivier often scores goals even if he is having a difficult time with his club. We gave him the crosses and he was very efficient,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
In Lisbon, Portugal saw off Hungary, a team they shared six goals with at Euro 2016.
The win kept Portugal in second place in Group B, three points behind Switzerland, who earlier preserved their 100 percent record with a fifth win in five games, a 1-0 home victory against Latvia.
Porto striker Andre Silva opened the scoring after 30 minutes, converting a pass from Raphael Guerreiro for his fifth goal in six games for Portugal.
Six minutes later, skipper Ronaldo doubled the lead with a superb left-footed finish and the Real Madrid superstar made it 3-0 on 65 minutes with a clever free-kick for his 70th international goal.
“We want to go the World Cup so we have to win our next five matches, they are all finals,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
Belgium stayed top of Group H but only after struggling to a 1-1 draw with Greece.
Missing the injured Eden Hazard, Belgium lacked a creative spark in Brussels and they were made to pay when Greece grabbed the lead just 20 seconds into the second period when Benfica striker Kostas Mitroglou latched on to a long ball to fire home his third goal of the qualifying campaign.
Greece were reduced to 10 men after 65 minutes when Panagiotis Tachtsidis was red carded for a crude lunge on defender Toby Alderweireld.
Everton striker Lukaku drove home from close range in the 89th minute to grab a share of the spoils before Georgios Tzavelas was sent-off in injury time.
“I feel a lot of frustration. With the amount of individual talent we have at our disposal, we have to show more,” said Martinez.
Earlier on Saturday, Sweden crushed Belarus 4-0 to move to 10 points in Group A, three behind France, with Emil Forsberg scoring twice.
In Group H, Bosnia-Herzegovina also went on a goal spree with a 5-0 win over minnows Gibraltar, who have now conceded 22 goals in five games.
Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo hauled Real Madrid back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Villarreal on Sunday and regain top spot in La Liga from Barcelona.
Earlier, Barca had momentarily usurped Real thanks to Lionel Messi’s winner four minutes from time in a 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid.
Real lead Barca by a point, but also have a game in hand on their title rivals.
“We showed character to turn the game around,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
“With everything that happened today it was vitally important to get the three points.”
Bale was recalled to the starting line-up for the first time in three months after a long-term injury layoff and Real’s shock 2-1 defeat to Valencia in midweek.
And the European champions looked set for a second straight defeat as Villarreal struck twice early in the second half.
Firstly, Manu Trigueros volleyed home Samu Castillejo’s knockdown before Cedric Bakambu burst onto Bruno Soriano’s through ball to slot past Keylor Navas.
Ronaldo almost replied immediately, but Madrid’s luck looked out when his sweetly struck volley came back off the post.
However, Bale started Madrid’s fightback as he rose highest to power home Dani Carvajal’s cross 25 minutes from time.
Villarreal had enjoyed the better of the opening hour, but were swamped by wave upon wave of Real attack for the final 30 minutes.
The visitors needed a slice of luck, though, when Soriano was harshly adjudged to have handled inside his own area 15 minutes from time.
Ronaldo took responsiblity from the spot to smash home the equaliser.
Villarreal had lost goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo midway through the first half to what looks like the fourth cruciate knee ligament injury of his career.
“Asenjo seems to have torn his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee. It’s a real shame,” said Villarreal coach Fran Escriba.
And his absence was to prove crucial for Real’s winner seven minutes from time as substitute goalkeeper Andres Fernandez let Alvaro Morata’s powerful header from Marcelo’s cross squeeze under his body to complete a rousing Real fightback.
Under-fire Barcelona coach Luis Enrique thanked the “terrible” state of Atletico’s pitch for Messi’s winner at the Vicente Calderon.
Messi stabbed home at the second attempt after his first effort was blocked to register his 27th career goal against Atletico.
“It was a terrible pitch for passing the ball, but I think it favoured us for both the goals,” said Enrique.
Rafinha’s scrappy effort fired Barca into the lead just after the hour, but Atletico responded seven minutes later through Diego Godin.
Defeat leaves fourth-placed Atletico just one point clear of Real Sociedad in the battle for the final Champions League slot.
“We competed very well, but they showed their class in both areas,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
Following their Champions League thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain and struggles at home to Leganes last weekend, Enrique switched from the Catalans’ habitual 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 with Messi forced into an advanced midfield role.
The change in tactics did little to stem Barca’s slump in form early on as Atletico dominated the opening half hour.
Atletico’s best effort of the opening half came from long range, though, as Antoine Griezmann’s driven effort on his weaker right foot forced a brilliant flying save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Luis Suarez screwed horribly wide after being played in by Messi at the start of the second-half.
Then at the other end, ter Stegen made another excellent stop to deny Griezmann from a narrow angle.
The deadlock was eventually broken in scrappy fashion on 63 minutes as Rafinha profited from a loose ball inside the area to fire low into the far corner.
However, the lead lasted only seven minutes as Godin rose higher than a host of Barca defenders to flick home Koke’s free-kick for the equaliser.
Yet, when Barca needed a potential season-defining goal, Messi again came up trumps with his 35th in as many games this season.
The five-time World Player of the Year’s first effort from Suarez’s cut-back was blocked, but he followed up to prod past the helpless Jan Oblak and move Barca top of the table for a few hours.
Gareth Bale hopes three tough months on the sidelines will have their recompense by helping Real Madrid’s bid for La Liga and Champions League glory and Wales’ hopes of reaching the World Cup.
Bale made an instant impact on his first taste of action for 88 days after damaging ankle ligaments as he fired home Madrid’s second in a 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday just 13 minutes after coming off the bench.
And the Welshman hopes he can match his fantastic form from the final three months of last season after suffering from injury problems earlier in the campaign.
“Every cloud has a silver lining, hopefully I am a bit fresher than maybe some others,” said Bale.
“It can work in my advantage to be out for a little bit, but the important thing now is to get back to 100 percent and playing well and to help the team.”
Victory took Real four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a game in hand.
However, Zinedine Zidane’s men face an intense final few months of the campaign with 18 La Liga games and their defence of the Champions League still to play for.
Bale’s return is also a timely boost for Wales boss Chris Coleman ahead of his side’s crunch World Cup qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland on March 24.
“I plan not to get injured any more,” added Bale.
“Hopefully now I can keep building my fitness up over the next few weeks…hopefully I can be fit for Real Madrid as soon as possible to play 90 minutes, and obviously for Wales as well.”
Bale was given a hero’s reception on his return by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.
And he admitted getting on the scoresheet was just a bonus to the joy of being back among the action.
“I was happy just to be on the pitch. To get a goal is an extra bonus and thankful to help the team and see the game off,” he continued.
“There has been some tough moments, but we have an amazing medical team here. Jaime Benito (physio) has been incredible for me, my family have been amazing, my fiancee, my kids.
“It’s been a difficult time but when you get a reception like that it makes it all worth it.”
Madrid face tougher tests over the next week with trips to Valencia and Villarreal to come.
And Bale insisted he isn’t expecting to be rushed back into the starting line-up by Zidane.
“I’ve been out for three months so it will take a few weeks to get back to 100 percent, it’s just about managing my game time.
“It depends how I feel game-by-game. Today was 20 minutes. I will speak with the manager about Valencia and Villarreal.”
However, Zidane admitted Bale brings special qualities that others can’t offer.
“We only have one Gareth Bale,” said the Frenchman. “We are happy to see Gareth back with the team. He is a special player, he gives us something different from the rest.”
Real Madrid extended their La Liga lead to four points and still have a game in hand over their title rivals as Cristiano Ronaldo was on target in a 3-0 win over Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Earlier on Sunday, Barcelona were left to rue La Liga’s lack of goal line technology as they weren’t awarded a clear goal in a controversial 1-1 draw at Real Betis.
However, Barca still moved up to second on goal difference as Sevilla were reduced to 10 men after just two minutes in a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol.
Madrid had won only one of their previous five games and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Celta Vigo in midweek.
However, even without six first-team regulars through injury, Real took a huge step towards a first La Liga title for five years against an in-form Sociedad, who remain just one point off the top four in fifth.
“After a few difficult days we were back to being ourselves tonight. It was a complete performance against a strong opponent,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
“We can say it has been a good night for us because our rivals have drawn or lost.”
Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring with the only real chance of the first-half as he timed his late run from midfield perfectly for Ronaldo’s through ball and slotted low beyond Geronimo Rulli.
The roles were reversed six minutes into the second-half as this time Kovacic’s pass split the Sociedad defence and Ronaldo coolly chipped the onrushing Rulli for his 20th goal of the season.
Sociedad’s uphill task was made impossible 15 minutes from time when Inigo Martinez was sent-off for a second bookable offence.
And Alvaro Morata made the 10 men pay as he bulleted home Lucas Vazquez’s cross for the third eight minutes from time.
There was far more drama at the Benito Villamarin as Barca were largely outplayed by Betis, but still felt hard done by after referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez failed to award them an equaliser when the ball crossed the Betis line shortly after Alex Alegria’s opener 15 minutes from time.
“We have to help the referees,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told BeIN Sports Spain.
“The technology can help them. I say that for all situations not just ones that go for me, but against me too.”
Luis Suarez did at least rescue a point in the dying seconds, though, as he slotted home Lionel Messi’s through ball for his 21st goal of the season.
However, he was less understanding as he claimed the ball “was a metre over the line.”
The hosts dominated opening 75 minutes as Dani Ceballos saw a dipping long-range effort come back off the bar before Ruben Castro struck the post with Marc-Andre ter Stegen beaten at his near post.
The German goalkeeper had a moment to forget for the opening goal as he failed to get a good connection on an attempted punch under pressure from two Betis players and the ball fell kindly for Alegria to tap home.
Conceding appeared to wake Barca from their slumber and they were doubly denied by Hernandez seconds later as Neymar went down inside the area and the ball ricocheted off Riza Durmisi and over his own line despite Alissa Mandi’s best efforts.
Yet, La Liga’s refusal to implement goal line technology due to pricing fears cost Barca dearly as no goal was given.
Betis should have sealed the three points when Castro broke clear on goal eight minutes from time, but Ter Stegen redeemed himself with a fine save.
And that miss proved crucial as Messi finally found the space to slip a pass through the Betis defence and Suarez dispatched the ball into the far corner.
“The feeling I have is that we have won one point (not lost two),” added Enrique.
There was also refereeing controversy at Espanyol as Sevilla’s shot at moving top lasted barely two minutes when Nico Pareja was very harshly sent-off on top of conceding a penalty for a trip on Pablo Piatti.
Former Sevilla favourite Jose Antonio Reyes showed no mercy to his former club as he converted from the spot, but Stefan Jovetic levelled for the 10 men inside 20 minutes.
Reyes haunted Sevilla once more as his free-kick was headed home by Marc Navarro in first-half stoppage time.
And Gerard Moreno sealed the three points for Espanyol as this time Navarro was the supplier for his headed finish.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane dismissed criticism of his side’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on Friday following a dip in form that has coincided with Real losing two consecutive games after setting a Spanish record unbeaten run of 40 games.
Ronaldo struggled to influence Real’s 2-1 home defeat at by Celta Vigo in the King’s Cup on Wednesday and the 2-1 reverse to Sevilla last Sunday that cut their lead at the top of La Liga to a point, although he did convert a penalty.
The forward recently won the 2016 Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s The Best accolade for leading Real to last season’s Champions League and captaining Portugal to glory at Euro 2016. He has 12 goals in La Liga this season, two behind top scorers Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
The Portuguese, however, has attracted renewed criticism in the Spanish media for his lack of impact in big games, failing to find the net against Barcelona, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao, although he did net a hat-trick against local rivals Atletico Madrid.
“Cristiano is always going to be criticised, when he doesn’t score or when he plays in a different position, but he’s used to that, he’s focused like everyone else on the next game,” former Real midfielder Zidane told a news conference on Friday ahead of the game against Malaga.
“He’s always going to be the player that makes the difference for this team. Sometimes he might play badly, that used to happen to me sometimes, but so what? The important thing is that he keeps working hard.”
Although Zidane was critical of his side following the loss to Celta, lamenting their lack of intensity and concentration, he said he was relaxed about the team’s form despite suffering two successive defeats for the first time as Real coach.
“This is football, you can’t win all the time, just like in life. My mind is only focused on work and thinking how we can improve. There was room for improvement before we had lost. We have to focus more, but I’m not worried,” he added.
“There’s no rule saying you can never slip up again. I’m always under pressure, I knew that when I signed my contract, I will always feel it until the day I leave but it makes me grow stronger every day.”
Real will be without Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez due to a calf injury against Malaga and Dani Carvajal, who has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring problem. Gareth Bale and Pepe are still sidelined.
Cristiano Ronaldo paraded his fourth Ballon d’Or and powered home his first goal of 2017 as Real Madrid equalled Barcelona’s Spanish record 39-game unbeaten run with a 5-0 demolition of lowly Granada on Saturday.
Sevilla leapfrogged Barca into second, four points behind Real, thanks to Wissam Ben Yedder’s hat-trick in a hugely impressive 4-0 win at sixth-placed Real Sociedad, whilst Atletico Madrid won 2-0 at Eibar to move up to fourth.
At the Bernabeu, Ronaldo was honoured by previous Ballon d’Or winners to have played for Madrid including Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Michael Owen and his coach Zinedine Zidane before kick-off.
And Real’s relentless run stretching back to April last year continued once the action got underway as they scored four times in the opening half-hour.
Isco and Karim Benzema slotted home from close range before Ronaldo, who had been rested for Real’s 3-0 Copa del Rey win over Sevilla in midweek, bulleted home a header from Marcelo’s cross.
Another simple finish from Isco made it four before the break and Casemiro turned home James Rodriguez’s free-kick for the fifth after half-time.
Barca can close back to within three points of the leaders with victory at Villarreal on Sunday.
“There is no limit, but on the other hand we have to do everything possible to make sure it lasts,” Zidane said of his side’s stunning form.
The Frenchman made four changes from the side that saw off Sevilla with ease in midweek with Keylor Navas returning in goal and all of Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco coming in up front.
Once again Zidane was vindicated as all three of the frontline scored in a rapid start.
The hosts got a break for the opener as Isco could have been penalised for a trip on Sergi Samper before he exchanged passes with Benzema and slotted low past Guillermo Ochoa.
Madrid were also fortunate for the second as Benzema appeared offside when he prodded into an empty net after Ochoa tamely parried Luka Modric’s shot into his path.
Real captain for the day Marcelo marked the 10-year anniversary since his debut with a pinpoint cross from which Ronaldo powered home his 17th goal of the season.
And with the Granada defence once again pulled apart by Madrid’s movement, Modric’s low cross found an unmarked Isco for a simple finish at the back post for his second of the afternoon.
“The matches are prepared in a certain way depending on whether we have two, three or four days, but the idea is always to do our best, be physically ready and concentrated,” added Zidane.
“If we are ready and concentrated we can do great things.”
Madrid understandably eased off in the second half, but the European champions did net a fifth just before the hour mark when Casemiro was left unmarked to bundle home substitute Rodriguez’s free-kick at the back post.
Ronaldo is expected to pick up another individual trophy in FIFA’s inaugural The Best award for 2016 on Monday, but one of his rivals for the prize ended a three-month goal drought in La Liga as Antoine Griezmann sealed Atletico’s 2-0 win at Eibar.
After a first-half short on goal mouth action, Saul Niguez nodded Atletico in front eight minutes after the break.
Griezmann hadn’t netted in 821 La Liga minutes since October 2, but bundled home from close range after a one-two with Kevin Gameiro 16 minutes from time.
However, it is Sevilla who are Real’s closest challengers as they bounced back in style from their midweek mauling to inflict Sociedad’s first home defeat since the opening day of the season.
Ben Yedder did most of the damage as he struck twice in four first-half minutes to put the visitors in command.
And despite en early rally by Sociedad at the start of the second period, Ben Yedder then teed up Pablo Sarabia to kill the game 17 minutes from time.
Ben Yedder produced another cool finish to complete his first La Liga hat-trick in the closing stages and take his tally for the season to an impressive 15.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 500th club goal Thursday as Real Madrid eased past Mexico’s Club America 2-0 to reach the Club World Cup final in Japan.
The Spanish giants will face shock finalists Kashima Antlers, the J-League champions, in Yokohama on Sunday as they look to capture their second world title in three years and fifth in total.
“Our sole aim was to reach the final — so it’s job done,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters after goals from Karim Benzema and Ronaldo extended his side’s club record unbeaten run to 36 matches in all competitions.
“We didn’t have a great rhythm in the first half, but in the second half we created more chances and Cristiano was able to kill the game off so I’m very happy,” added the Frenchman.
“It was a long flight to Japan and we have very few days to rest and prepare for the final, but we have come here to win this Club World Cup.”
His countryman Benzema said: “It was a hard game against a tough team. The conditions were difficult too with the long journey we’ve had, but we played well and won the game — now for the final.”
With Ronaldo firing blanks until scoring with virtually the last kick of the game, Benzema struck in first-half stoppage time, finishing clinically with the outside of his right boot after a deft pass from Toni Kroos.
Ronaldo, who scooped his fourth Ballon d’Or earlier this week, had already squandered a gilt-edged opportunity by heading against the post.
The Portuguese superstar also saw two stinging efforts blocked by goalkeeper Moises Munoz but his dogged persistence paid off when he swept home from a tight angle deep into injury time.
Confusion followed, however, when it appeared the goal could be ruled out using the video technology being trialled by FIFA in Japan.
Ronaldo’s face turned to thunder as the Mexicans protested he had been offside — until Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres finally indicated that the goal stood.
“It’s a new invention but to be honest I don’t like it,” said man of the match Luka Modric when asked about video replays.
“It causes confusion. I hope they don’t continue with this system because for me it is not football.”
Zidane refused to criticise the technology, although his comments hardly amounted to a ringing endorsement either.
“If you ask my personal impression, it could cause problems,” he said. “But if it’s FIFA policy then we have to get used to it. We don’t have the power to decide. Maybe it will help make things clear and transparent.”
The 31-year-old Ronaldo has hit a remarkable 377 goals in 366 games for Real with 118 more in 292 games for Manchester United and five in 31 for Sporting before that.
Club America coach Ricardo La Volpe insisted his side had been unfortunate to lose.
“I think the luck was against,” growled the firebrand Argentine.
“Real Madrid were not the better team. I told the players they can be proud of the way they fought,” he added. “It was a very tight game which we dominated for periods, but we were not aggressive enough. We just couldn’t find the final ball.”
Cristiano Ronaldo called it “a dream come true again” as he won his fourth Ballon d’Or on Monday to get one over his nemesis Lionel Messi for the title of best player in the world.
It was the perfect ending to another fantastic year for the Real Madrid star, who won the Champions League for the second time in three seasons and then led Portugal to their first major title at Euro 2016 — albeit he went off early injured and in tears in the surprise victory over France.
As has been the case for almost a decade now, the 31-year-old’s main rival was Messi — but the Barcelona and Argentine maestro had to relinquish the crown after a less-than-stellar year for club and country by his lofty standards.
Ronaldo is now one Ballon d’Or behind Messi, who was second this time with French striker Antoine Griezmann third.
Never one to play down his achievements, Ronaldo was spotted midweek in training having dyed his hair gold in anticipation and several media outlets published a photo earlier on Monday appearing to confirm he was the winner, before organisers France Football magazine made the official announcement.
“For me it’s a great honour to receive my fourth Ballon d’Or. The emotion is like the first one — it’s a dream come true again,” Ronaldo, who is at the Club World Cup in Japan, told L’Equipe TV.
“I never thought in my mind to win four times the Ballon d’Or, I’m so pleased and so happy.
“I have to thank all my team-mates, the national team, Real Madrid, all the people, the players who helped me to win this individual trophy.
“I want to enjoy this moment because it’s not easy to win this.”
Fourth was Luis Suarez and fifth his fellow Barcelona attacker Neymar, with Ronaldo’s Welsh team-mate Gareth Bale sixth.
Ronaldo was the firm favourite to win, but the prestigious prize comes at a time when the prolific forward has generated negative headlines in the past week over accusations of tax evasion.
Denying any wrongdoing, he responded by publishing his financial records last week, showing last year he earned a whopping 227 million euros ($240 million).
“You believe I am worried? He who owes nothing, fears nothing,” Ronaldo told broadcaster RTP at the time.
Ronaldo, the highest-paid sportsman in the world, first won the Ballon d’Or in 2008 after Premier League and Champions League triumphs with Manchester United.
But it was only in 2013 that he added his second — Messi had hogged it before then — and Ronaldo made it a hat-trick the following year.
United were quick to offer their congratulations on Twitter, calling a fourth Ballon d’Or “incredible”.
Real said Ronaldo, who last month signed a bumper new five-year contract, had enjoyed “a sensational year”.
The first Ballon d’Or was won by Stanley Matthews, at the time with Blackpool, who beat Alfredo Di Stefano for the inaugural title in 1956.
The Ballon d’Or is decided by a vote of 173 journalists.
Real Madrid can set a club record by extending their unbeaten run to 35 games when Deportivo la Coruna visit the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
Deportivo’s last visit to Real was Zinedine Zidane’s first match in charge back in January and the 5-0 thrashing of the Galicians was a sign of things to come in a dream debut year for the Frenchman as a senior coach.
Madrid haven’t tasted defeat since April, winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and opening up a six-point La Liga lead over Barcelona in the process.
“You have to congratulate the players,” insisted Zidane humbly after Madrid had to settle for qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League in second place behind Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
“They are the ones that are on the pitch, that have to fight and run.”
Los Blancos will be looking for the perfect end to their La Liga campaign for 2016 as they head for the Club World Cup in Japan on Sunday.
However, Deportivo have also been buoyed by a surprise 5-1 romp over high-flying Real Sociedad on Monday to register a first league win since early October and move out of the relegation zone in the process.
“I am always optimistic and I am going there with the hope of getting something from the game,” said Deportivo boss Gaizka Garitano.
“We are in the more desperate situation and we are not going to the Bernabeu just to make up the numbers.”
Madrid are at full strength bar the absence of Gareth Bale.
Toni Kroos and Alvaro Morata made their return from injury in the 2-2 with Dortmund in midweek and are likely to feature once more, whilst Mateo Kovacic could be recalled after being rested on Wednesday.
Barcelona can cut the gap to three points before Madrid kick-off with victory at rock bottom Osasuna earlier on Saturday.
After the blow of conceding a last minute equaliser to Madrid in last weekend’s El Clasico, Barca got back to winning ways with a morale boosting 4-0 thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach on Tuesday.
Crucially the returning Andres Iniesta has starred in his first two appearances after a six-week injury layoff over the past week.
With their captain restored, the Catalans looked like the Barca of old by registering a competition record 993 passes against the Germans in midweek.
“The most important thing is that the team continues to believe in what it does and how it does it,” said Iniesta.
“I am convinced we will get to the final months of the season in the hunt for all the trophies.”
Neymar is suspended so Arda Turan is expected to deputise alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack after netting a hat-trick against Moenchengladbach.
Sevilla were the one Spanish side not assured of their place in the Champions League last 16 before this week, but ground out a 0-0 draw at Lyon to progress.
However, struggles on the road have been a common theme for Jorge Sampaoli’s men as despite lying third in La Liga, seven points adrift of Real, they have won just four of their 12 away games this season.
The Europa League holders will be keen to make amends for a shock 2-1 defeat at Granada last weekend and maintain a two-point lead over Atletico Madrid when they travel to Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Atletico aren’t in action until Monday when they visit sixth-placed Villarreal in a crucial clash in the fight to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
On Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo silenced his critics yet again, as the 31-year-old Portuguese superstar netted a hat trick to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory over rival Atletico Madrid and give Real a clear line of sight to its first La Liga title in half a decade.
Ronaldo’s performance, however, meant far more than the three goals and the three points that put Real Madrid in the driver’s seat for the La Liga crown. Following a salary bump and a hefty contract extension worth a reported $187 million that keeps the forward at the Santiago Bernabeu until 2021, questions have come up over how Ronaldo will fit into the squad going forward considering his decreasing ability to take players one-on-one.
Against Atletico, Real and Ronaldo answered those questions.
Ronaldo started ahead of Karim Benzema at striker and made the most of his chances as the tip of Real’s spear. Similar to the role he played for Portugal in the 2016 European Championships, which Portugal won, Ronaldo continued the transformation from a free-roaming No. 7 darting on the wings and cheating on the inside to a constrained No. 9 causing havoc inside the box and putting pressure on opposing center backs.
For Ronaldo to remain relevant at Real Madrid for five more years, this positional shift became necessary. The former Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon winger could not continue to be an asset out wide as he dove deeper into his 30s. In front of goal, Ronaldo is one of the greatest finishers of all time and a credible threat to score at all times. After all, he is already the top scorer in Real Madrid history, and his scoring rate is higher than the greats that came before him (i.e. Raul Gonzalez, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas).
Of course, questions over how Benzema and Alvaro Morata fit into Real Madrid’s setup if Ronaldo is now a full-time forward will come fast and hard. But one has a tough time arguing against three goals that pushed Madrid nine points clear of Atletico Madrid and four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Hence, Benzema and Morata will need to adapt to Ronaldo more than the Portuguese will need to adapt to them. Ronaldo remains the biggest star at the club, on the pitch and off it.
With Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro, Morata and Toni Kroos among the first-team regulars not available for Real Madrid on Saturday, Ronaldo displayed that special winning quality that makes him the first name on the team sheet in the Spanish capital. Though Isco may have deserved Man of the Match honors for his inspired midfield play, Ronaldo secured all three goals.
He has a habit of doing that. It’s football, not rocket science, and Ronaldo knows how to find the back of the net with greater frequency than, arguably, any other human being that has ever lived. And yes, that includes Lionel Messi.
Unlike Messi, who has transitioned deeper into the midfield as he has grown older, Ronaldo has moved further forward with every passing year. It only makes sense that to get the most out of an aging attacker, the emphasis would be to put him in positions where he can apply that expensive final touch, rather than ask him to create chances. Also, Ronaldo’s superior height and heading ability make for a far more natural transition to out-and-out striker than Messi’s passing and vision make sense to move the Argentine deeper into midfield.
Also assisting Ronaldo’s transition is the emergence, arrival and settling of Gareth Bale with Los Blancos. In the past couple seasons, the Welshman has assumed a great deal of Ronaldo’s responsibility on the wings and in the midfield and, frankly, covered for his diminishing ability to run at opponents.
Three-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo insists he will have a “spectacular” season despite a slow start to the campaign caused by knee ligament damage.
Ronaldo was sidelined for two months by a sprained left knee ligament picked up during Portugal’s Euro 2016 final triumph over France, forcing him to miss Madrid’s first three games of the season.
He has scored just once in four La Liga games since making his return, but netted five times in Portugal’s routs over Andorra and the Faroe Islands in the past week.
“I had a serious injury, I was out for two months. Now I am back and at the start I has less confidence, but bit by bit I am feeling better and more confident. I feel that I am back to what I was,” Ronaldo told Madrid sports daily Marca on Friday.
“The season is very long and I am sure I am going to have another spectacular season.”
Ronaldo is expected to sign a bumper new contract with the European champions until 2021 in the coming days and reiterated his intention to retire in the Spanish capital after becoming the club’s all-time top goalscorer since joining from Manchester United in 2009.
“I didn’t expect to be at Real Madrid for so long. I have already said that I want to retire here. It is the club in my heart.
“It gives me the opportunity to win individual and collective trophies. What I want most of all is to renew (my contract) with Real Madrid and continue here for many years to come.”
Despite bagging two Champions League titles and winning the Ballon d’Or twice during his time with Real, Ronaldo has still only won one La Liga title in seven full seasons.
Zinedine Zidane’s men need to get back to winning ways at Real Betis on Saturday after three consecutive La Liga draws have seen them cede top spot to Atletico Madrid on goal difference.
However, with still a two-point lead over champions Barcelona, Ronaldo is convinced Madrid can end a five-year wait to win La Liga.
“It is the competition in which we have to more consistent. It is an important trophy and hopefully this will be the year.
“Madrid can’t go so many years without winning La Liga, but we are confident and motivated that we are going to win it.”
Cristiano Ronaldo marked his international return with four goals in a 6-0 mauling of hapless Andorra on Friday and then demanded eight more wins to guarantee Portugal a place in the 2018 World Cup.
The Real Madrid superstar took his Portugal career tally to 65 goals in 134 games but his team, the European champions, are only third in Group B, a point behind minnows Faroe Islands and three back from leaders Switzerland.
Only the group winners are certain of making the finals in Russia.
On Friday, the Swiss followed their opening 2-0 win over the Portuguese with a last-gasp 3-2 triumph at Hungary while the Faroes beat Latvia 2-0 in Riga.
“We know that Switzerland and the Faroes won tonight and it will be necessary for us to beat them during qualification,” said Ronaldo.
“There are eight games left and we want to win them all to reach the World Cup finals.”
Ronaldo, 31, was making his first appearance for Portugal since he was stretchered off injured and in tears from the final of Euro 2016, where his country beat France.
He wasted no time in making up for his three-month absence from international football, getting off the mark after just 73 seconds.
He was on target again two minutes later while adding two more after the interval.
“I know that I am an important player and I have always done my best since I started my international career. I scored four goals tonight and obviously I am very happy to have come back after my serious injury in the Euros final,” he said.
“We knew that the first goal tonight would be very important because they are a team who defend with 11 players.
“Things went well. We scored twice in the first five minutes and the match became a lot easier.”
Portugal will be in action again on Monday when they travel to the Faroes.
Atletico Madrid moved top of La Liga on Sunday as Celta Vigo edged Barcelona in a 4-3 thriller, whilst Real Madrid’s run of draws stretched to four against Eibar on Sunday.
Three goals in 11 first-half minutes sentenced a Barca side once again without the injuredLionel Messi as Pione Sisto, Iago Aspas and a Jeremy Mathieu own goal put Celta in command.
Gerard Pique and a Neymar penalty reduced Barca’s deficit. However, a Marc-Andre ter Stegen howler teed up Pablo Hernandez to restore Celta’s two-goal lead before Pique headed in his second late on.
Real Madrid remain two points ahead of the champions, but were booed off at the Santiago Bernabeu after a 1-1 draw against the Basque minnows.
Atletico lead their city rivals on goal difference at the top of the table despite missing two penalties as Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro netted in a 2-0 win at Valencia.
Barca boss Luis Enrique’s heaviest defeat in charge came in a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Celta last season and the former Celta coach suffered another embarrassing return to Balaidos.
“I can’t be satisfied because we have thrown away the opportunity to go top before the international break,” said Enrique.
“We were clearly inferior in the first-half.”
Former Liverpool striker Aspas did most of the damage as Sisto slotted home the opener from his superb through ball.
Aspas then drilled the second into the far corner and it was under pressure from the Celta striker that Mathieu turned Daniel Wass’s excellent cross into his own net.
Enrique introduced Andres Iniesta on his 600th Barca appearance for the second-half and his presence transformed the Catalans after the break.
Pique headed home Iniesta’s cross to give the visitors hope and a brilliant pass into Andre Gomes provoked a penalty just after the hour, which Neymar converted.
However, all of Barca’s good work was undone when Ter Stegen chipped the ball into the path of the onrushing Pablo Hernandez to head into an unguarded net.
Pique set up a grandstand finish three minutes from time and the centre-back was inches away from an incredible hat-trick when he glanced a header wide in stoppage time.
Earlier, Eibar celebrated their first ever goal and point against Madrid wildly.
Fran Rico headed the visitors into a sixth minute lead before Gareth Bale’s 50th La Liga goal secured a fourth consecutive draw for Real.
“The game is 90 minutes long and lately we have started matches very badly,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
It is the first time Madrid have drawn four successive games since Zidane was a Real player in 2006.
“It is not a crisis. It is still October and I am not going to go crazy, but something is wrong,” added Zidane.
“The only thing I can see we can do is to work harder and play with more intensity.”
The European champions badly missed the presence of Luka Modric, who is set to be sidelined for a month after undergoing knee surgery on Sunday morning.
Real took almost an hour to get firm control of the game and Cristiano Ronaldo had the chance to snatch the three points but blasted over from point-blank range.
A super Bale header also came back off the post and substitute Alvaro Morata had a goal rightly ruled out for offside as Eibar held on for a historic point.
Earlier, Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves’s heroics couldn’t deny Atletico as he extended his exceptional penalty record with stops from Griezmann and Gabi either side of the Frenchman’s opener just after the hour mark.
However, Gameiro finally sealed a deserved three points for Atletico in stoppage time.
New Valencia coach Cesare Prandelli watched on from the stands before officially taking charge on Monday, but other than Alves taking his record of saved penalties to 22 from 45 faced in Spanish football, there were few positives for the Italian.
Griezmann had hit the bar from the spot against Bayern in midweek and his well-struck penalty was brilliantly turned behind.
But Gameiro teed up Griezmann for his sixth La Liga goal of the season.
Gabi then saw a poor spot-kick easily saved by Alves, but deep into stoppage time Gameiro slotted past Alves to seal the win.
A substituted Cristiano Ronaldo cut a disconsolate figure as Real Madrid conceded a late equaliser to draw 2-2 at Las Palmas on Saturday.
Earlier, Barcelona shrugged off the absence of the injured Lionel Messi to move to within a point of Madrid at the top of the table as Luis Suarez and Neymar were on target in a 5-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijon.
Ronaldo was replaced moments after helping Madrid go 2-1 in front when Karim Benzemaslotted home the rebound after the Portuguese’s initial effort was saved.
However, he watched on as Sergio Araujo took advantage of some soft Madrid defending to level as the European champions dropped points for the second time in four days.
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane insisted that, despite a sub-par display, Ronaldo had been replaced to keep him fresh for Tuesday’s Champions League trip to Borussia Dortmund.
“We have another game on Tuesday and he has to rest too now and again,” Zidane told Spanish TV station Movistar.
“It is obvious he always wants to stay on the field, but I have to think about my players and particularly Cristiano.
“I have to take him off sometimes and tonight we did it.”
Stung by a poor first-half performance in a 1-1 draw with Villarreal in midweek that snapped a 16-game La Liga winning streak, Madrid pressed high from the off and had 17 shots in a wide open first 45 minutes.
Real made the breakthrough just after the half-hour mark when Javi Varas made a fine save from Nacho’s low effort, but Marco Asensio followed up to head into an empty net.
The lead lasted just five minutes, though, as Raphael Varane’s poor defensive header fell at the feet of Tana, who slotted past the helpless Kiko Casilla.
Varas denied Ronaldo midway through the second half, but substitute Benzema was on hand to turn home the loose ball.
Ronaldo was then replaced by Lucas Vazquez, but didn’t acknowledge Zidane as he sulked off the field.
The three-time World Player of the Year has now completed the 90 minutes just once in Madrid’s six La Liga games so far this season.
And Ronaldo’s mood worsened when Araujo bundled his way past Casilla and Sergio Ramos to slot home the equaliser five minutes from time.
Earlier, Barca overcame a difficult opening half hour to hit five past 10-man Sporting.
Yet, Barca coach Luis Enrique was far from satisfied with his side’s display, particularly early in the second half.
“It is a result that doesn’t tell the true story of the game — 5-0 makes it seem easy and simple and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.
“We were poor at the start of the second half, we didn’t kill the game off and Sporting could have got back into the game.”
One moment of Suarez magic turned the game in Barca’s favour as he raced onto Arda Turan’s through ball and flicked the ball past the onrushing Ivan Cuellar before slotting into an empty net.
A fine team goal put the game beyond Sporting moments later as Neymar freed Sergi Roberto down the right and Rafinha met his cross with a powerful near-post header.
More goals flowed in the final 10 minutes after Alberto Lora dived in on Roberto to leave his side a man light.
Paco Alcacer was denied his first Barca goal when he smashed the ball off the underside of the bar, but Neymar mopped up the rebound to make it 3-0.
Roberto was the provider once more for the fourth as Turan powered home his cross at the back post four minutes later.
Denis Suarez then teed up Neymar to sweep home his second of the game two minutes from time.
Sevilla missed the chance to go level with Madrid at the top as they suffered their first league defeat of the season, losing 3-1 at Athletic Bilbao.
On-loan Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri’s first Sevilla goal was in vein as Mikel San Jose, Mikel Balenziaga and Aritz Aduriz’s injury time penalty lifted the Basques up to third with a fourth straight win.
Barcelona’s fearsome front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar could join forces for the first time in four months against Alaves, while Cristiano Ronaldo will make his Real Madrid return on Saturday.
Neymar has missed Barca’s 100 percent start to the season due to his efforts in leading Brazil to Olympic gold on home soil, but returned to Spain for the first time since May after more international duty in World Cup qualifying this week and is expected to start at the Camp Nou.
Messi is a much bigger doubt after missing Argentina’s clash with Venezuela in midweek due to a groin problem. The five-time World Player of the Year has played a limited part in training in recent days and coach Luis Enrique is likely to be cautious for the first of seven games in 22 days for Barca.
Paco Alcacer is in line to make his debut after sealing a 30 million-euro ($33 million) move from Valencia and the Spanish international striker is aware he will have to make the most of limited opportunities as fourth choice behind Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
“I will do everything I can to take advantage of the chances I have to the full,” Alcacer said as he was presented on Thursday.
Andres Iniesta has also returned to training following a knee injury and will battle Arda Turan and Denis Suarez for a place in midfield as both have impressed early in the campaign.
Ronaldo makes his long-awaited return at the Santiago Bernabeu against Osasuna earlier on Saturday in what will be his first appearance since suffering ligament damage in his left knee during Portugal’s Euro 2016 final win over France.
Real haven’t suffered in Ronaldo’s absence with two wins from their opening two La Liga games and victory over Sevilla in the European Super Cup.
And after winning two Champions League titles in his first three seasons at Madrid, Gareth Bale insists the European champions have to put more emphasis on ending a four-year run without winning La Liga.
“It’s important to try to win La Liga because it’s been a few years since we have and it’s normal that it’s our focus,” said Bale.
“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s game against Osasuna and I’m sure that they will make it difficult for us, but it’ll be great to be able to call upon almost the whole squad.”
Karim Benzema and Pepe have also returned from injury to leave Zinedine Zidane with a fully-fit squad bar the absence of goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid desperately need to kickstart their season after back-to-back disappointing draws with Alaves and Leganes when they visit Celta Vigo in the first match in a new early Saturday kick-off time of 1300 (1100GMT) designed to compete with the English Premier League in Asian television markets.
Celta finished sixth last season, but have also endured a poor start with defeats in both their opening matches and the Galicians will be without influential playmaker Fabian Orellana for a month due to a muscle tear.
Early season leaders Las Palmas have been on fire in scoring nine goals in their opening two games to shoot ahead of Barca and Madrid to the top of the table for the first time in 38 years.
However, the searing Spanish heat could get in their way this weekend with record temperatures for September registered across the country.
League chief Javier Tebas has promised players’ safety won’t be risked and Las Palmas’ visit to Sevilla is one of a number of games that could be delayed or even postponed if temperatures are deemed to be too high.
Real Madrid shrugged off the absence of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo to extend their perfect start to the season with a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday thanks to Toni Kroos’s late winner.
The European champions now lead their opponents in May’s Champions League final by four points after just two games as Atletico Madrid were held 0-0 at newly promoted Leganes.
Alvaro Morata looked to have Real on their way to another three points when he eventually broke Celta’s resistence by smashing home on the hour mark.
Fabian Orellana curled home a spectacular equaliser 24 minutes from time, but Kroos’s sublime low strike in off the inside of the post secured all three points for the hosts 10 minutes from time.
“We played so-so today,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“I am left with the fact the players believed until the end and we achieved what we wanted.”
Ronaldo was still sidelined by the knee ligament injury that forced him off during Portugal’s Euro 2016 final victory over France.
In his absence, Gareth Bale was expected to lead Real to another comfortable win after continuing his sensational form with Wales at the Euros with two goals in a 3-0 victory at Real Sociedad last weekend.
However, Bale endured a frustrating night and it was another former Tottenham Hotspur star in Luka Modric who shone in a tight first half with two long-range efforts that forced Sergio Alvarez into fine saves, while a third effort from the Croatian came back off the bar.
Bale came to life after the break when Alvarez got a fingertip to send his viciously dipping free-kick over the bar.
Morata was handed his second home debut after returning from a two-year spell at Juventus with Karim Benzema also sidelined.
And he took full advantage by firing home the rebound after Alvarez had denied Marco Asensio.
Real’s joy was short-lived, however, as Orellana took advantage of the time he was given at the edge of the area to fire home a fine equaliser six minutes later.
Kroos, though, was Real’s hero as the German brilliantly measured a side-footed effort in from 25 yards to the relief of the Bernabeu.
Atletico’s slow start to the campaign continued as they have now managed just two points from their opening two games, both against newly promoted opposition.
Euro 2016 top scorer Antoine Griezmann missed the best chance of the first-half, whilst Leganes goalkeeper Jon Serantes saved from Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres after the break.
“If we keep playing like this we’ll be fighting against relegation,” raged a frustrated Griezmann to BeIN Sports.
Valencia have endured an even more disastrous start to the campaign as they lost 1-0 at Basque minnows Eibar to follow-up a 4-2 thrashing at home by Las Palmas on Monday.
Pedro Leon scored the only goal of the game with Valencia missing captain Paco Alcacer ahead of his expected move to Barcelona.
Champions Barca travel to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
With France’s baby-faced poster boy Antoine Griezmann going up against preening Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, the Euro 2016 final will feature a duel between two very different number sevens.
Griezmann, 25, is the tournament’s top scorer and is bidding to deliver success for the home nation in his first major international final.
Ronaldo wept teenage tears after Portugal’s 1-0 loss to Greece in the Euro 2004 final and at 31, he knows he may not get a better chance of success with his country.
“Euro 2004 was special — I was just 19 and it was my first tournament,” Ronaldo said after scoring a magnificent header in Portugal’s 2-0 semi-final win over Wales.
“Now we are in the final again and we hope we will win it. I hope that we’ll be smiling and that it will be tears of joy in the end.”
Griezmann has already had a tearful tournament exit, having cried on the pitch at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana after France lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals.
He appeared close to tears again six weeks ago following Atletico Madrid’s Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid, in which he blasted a second-half penalty against the bar.
He atoned, partially, in the penalty shootout, but Ronaldo had the last laugh, tucking away the fifth and final spot-kick to secure his third European title.
It is Griezmann, however, who has captured imaginations at the Euro and he provided another exhibition of his talents with a brace in the 2-0 semi-final win over Germany.
“He’s a great player,” said France coach Didier Deschamps. “In this Euro, he’s been decisive for us. He can score and he can help others score.”
Disappointing in France’s opening 2-1 win over Romania, Griezmann came off the bench to head in a crucial late goal in the 2-0 defeat of Albania.
But having started the tournament on the right flank, it was only after being moved behind Olivier Giroud at half-time of the last 16 clash with the Republic of Ireland that his tournament sprang to life.
He scored twice in the second half, found the net again in the 5-2 last 16 defeat of Iceland and downed Germany almost single-handedly in Marseille on Thursday.
Paul Pogba went into the tournament as the heir apparent to Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane. But L’Equipe newspaper dubbed the team the “Griezmann Generation” following the defeat of Germany.
Griezmann is the first player to score six goals at a Euro since Platini, who netted nine times when France triumphed as hosts of the 1984 tournament.
Ronaldo’s goal against Wales saw him equal Platini’s record of nine goals at Euro finals, but whereas it took the Frenchman one tournament to set his mark, it has taken the Portugal captain four to equal it.
Like Griezmann, Ronaldo made a slow start to the tournament.
He was widely ridiculed for accusing Iceland — population 330,000 — of having a “small mentality” after the 1-1 draw between the teams and then slammed a penalty against the post as Portugal drew 0-0 with Austria.
But he scored twice in the 3-3 draw with Hungary that secured Portugal’s last 16 place and after two games without a goal, he settled the semi-final against Wales with a goal and an assist for Nani.
With his great rival Lionel Messi’s Argentina career up in the air — the Barcelona star announced his international retirement following a defeat on penalties by Chile in the Copa America final — Ronaldo has an extra incentive to win on Sunday.
Like Messi, he has never won a World Cup or continental tournament with his country.
Lead Portugal to a first major title, and a fourth Ballon d’Or — the prize he covets above almost all others — would swim tantalisingly into view.
For so much of Cristiano Ronaldo’s majestic career, he has battled with Lionel Messi, often unsuccessfully, to be considered the greatest player in the world.
If history ultimately judges the finest talents by their achievements on the international stage, where neither player has tasted success, then the Portuguese captain could use Sunday’s Euro 2016 final to land a haymaker blow in one of football’s great rivalries.
Ronaldo has overcome rumblings of discontent at the tournament, with his form and attitude subjected to microscopic analysis, to lead his side into a showpiece finale where they will face hosts France in Paris.
Should he end the occasion holding aloft the trophy, it would not only crown a remarkable career, it would perhaps settle once and for all a debate that has divided fans across the world.
Ronaldo and Messi have been jostling for the World Player of the Year title for years, often with little to separate them in the scoring charts or in their burgeoning trophy cabinets.
They have hoovered up eight Ballon D’Or titles between them (Messi five, Ronaldo three) and been the cause of innumerable arguments among fans and pundits who have picked over their various merits.
Yet neither has led their country to glory in a continental or World Cup tournament.
A rivalry that stretches back a decade and includes two of the world’s biggest clubs in Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Messi’s Barcelona, could be about to witness a defining moment.
And timing is everything.
When Messi’s Argentina failed to beat Chile in last month’s Copa America final it proved too heavy a blow for the diminutive playmaker, who announced his international retirement in the aftermath.
A multiple trophy winner with Barcelona, the 29-year-old Messi had been part of four final defeats with the national team, three in the Copa America and at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Fast forward a few weeks and Sunday’s final offers Ronaldo an opportunity to stamp his authority decisively on the debate. Victory against France would elevate him into a pantheon of former greats who have tasted international success.
Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini all claimed international trophies to cement their standing as the best players of their generations.
It is a list that Ronaldo would no doubt like to join and he is coming into form right on cue.
The 31-year-old, who suffered disappointment in the 2004 final when his side were beaten by Greece, began Euro 2016 with his influence on the team under scrutiny.
As Portugal failed to win their first five games inside 90 minutes, Ronaldo was frequently pictured scowling at team mates and throwing up his arms in despair as passes went astray and chances went begging.
He threw a reporter’s microphone into a lake when he was asked a question during a team walk and was criticised for disparaging remarks he made about Iceland after Portugal drew 1-1 with the rank outsiders in their opening match.
Yet for all the theatrics, when the curtain rose on their biggest match of the tournament, he was the undoubted star of the show, scoring once with a magnificent header and setting up another goal in their 2-0 semi-final victory over Wales.
The current Portugal side are far from the most talented in their recent history and Sunday’s opponents France are heavy favourites but a Ronaldo-inspired victory would, for once, leave Messi firmly in his rival’s shadow.
Cristiano Ronaldo awoke from his Euro 2016 slumber in time to rescue Portugal from an early exit, but faces a greater challenge against a classy Croatia side that Portugal coach Fernando Santos called “sharks” in a wide open draw.
Ronaldo made history as the first player to score in four European Championships with a double in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary. The result saw Portugal just squeeze through behind Iceland and Hungary in third-place in Group F.
The Real Madrid star has more records in his sights as he is just one goal behind French legend Michel Platini’s mark of nine in European Championship finals.
However, Ronaldo refused to accept Portugal were underdogs against a Croatia side that shocked two-time defending champions Spain to top Group D.
“We made it and now we face a very good team, but the odds are 50/50,” said Ronaldo.
“Croatia are a tough team, with good players. Not every team manages to beat Spain.
“We respect them, but we know our strengths and we’ll look them in the eye when we face them.”
Croatia are likely to be even stronger for Saturday’s clash in Lens (1900GMT) than against Spain with the return of Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate Luka Modric from injury.
Juventus frontman Mario Mandzukic is also likely to shake off a knock to retake his place after Croatia coach Ante Cacic made five changes for the historic win over Spain.
“I cannot say if they are fit to play 90 minutes, but everything looks good,” added Cacic.
Santos laughed off suggestions his side had been fortunate to come up against Croatia rather than another meeting with two-time defending champions Spain, who beat Portugal on route to winning the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
“Croatia are one of the sharks we had been trying to avoid,” he said.
“They placed first in a group with Spain, which tells you all you need to know about them.”
However, Santos has placed his faith in Ronaldo to again answer his country’s call and shrugged off accusations Portugal are too dependant on their all-time top scorer.
“Ronaldo has won many games for Portugal, but Manchester United used to win many games and Real Madrid win many games thanks to Ronaldo goals and they are great teams,” he added.
For Croatia a bright start to a tournament in France has rekindled memories of their fairytale run to the World Cup semi-finals in 1998 before losing out to the hosts 2-1.
Ivan Perisic was the hero against Spain, drilling home the winner three minutes from time.
However, Croatia cannot get carried away despite finding themselves in the weaker half of the draw avoiding Germany, France, Italy, Spain or England until the final.
“We made a really great job in the group stages, but this is just the beginning. If we lose the next match this doesn’t mean anything,” Perisic said.
“We have to stay at the same level and fight as we did in the first three matches if we want to recreate memories of 1998.”
Croatia should at least be fresher than Ronaldo and his teammates, who had 24 hours less rest since their final group game and spent four hours on the journey north from their training camp just outside Paris to Lens due to traffic on Friday.
“If we were talking about the beginning of the season 72 hours is enough for the players to recover, but this is the end of the season,” added Santos.
“There is no use crying over spilt milk. It is up to the coach to ascertain how well the players are doing physically and pick the right team.”