Seven times Cristiano Ronaldo saved the day for his team
1. vs Barcelona… thrice
Mesut Ozil’s incisive through-ball was latched onto by the Portuguese, who placed the ball beyond Victor Valdes. The three vital points put Real Madrid seven up en route to their league title.
It’s hard to imagine that there was once a contingent of fans who felt Ronaldo was ‘cursed’ against Barcelona and would never score against them. That train of thinking has long passed. Six years later, CR7 has 16 goals in El Clásico – three of them game winners.
Against Barcelona – just a fortnight or so before he stepped up with a hat-trick against Wolfsburg – Ronaldo took down a Gareth Bale cross with his chest around Dani Alves, before scoring to seal three points for Real Madrid in the Camp Nou.
Shuffling back five seasons, Madrid leaned on Ronaldo in the 2011 Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona. After a goalless 90 minutes, a slick one-two exchange between Marcelo and Angel Di Maria resulted in a cross from the left which Ronaldo met in the air to head past Jose Manuel Pinto. It finished 1-0 after extra time.
Of the three match-winners Ronaldo has smashed Barcelona with, the most famous came in 2012 at the Camp Nou, and produced his well-documented “Calma!” celebration. Level at 1-1, Mesut Ozil’s incisive through-ball was latched onto by the Portuguese, who placed the ball beyond Victor Valdes from a tight angle. The three vital points put Real Madrid seven up en route to their league title.
2. vs Manchester United, 2012/13 Champions League Last 16
Ronaldo had saved Real Madrid again, this time at the expense of devastating his former team and stimulating emotions within the Manchester United supporters who had welcomed him home.
In the first leg of this memorable tie against Manchester United, Ronaldo levelled the scoring at the Bernabeu to keep Real Madrid within striking distance heading into the second leg at Old Trafford.
After Luka Modric netted from outside the area to level on aggregate, CR7 finished off some neat build-up play between Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain. Ronaldo had saved Real Madrid again, this time at the expense of devastating his former team and stimulating emotions within the Manchester United supporters who had welcomed him home.
3. vs Arsenal, 2008/09 Champions League Semi-Final
Out of all the matches listed here, this one can be clipped as one where Ronaldo didn’t necessarily save the day – but it’s worth remembering for the sheer brilliance conjured by the Portuguese ace in the second leg playing for Manchester United against a paralysed Arsenal side.
Ronaldo put himself on another level in the Emirates Stadium that night. His strut, strength, will and supernatural performance goes down as one of his best ever in a United shirt.
The Portuguese’s brace and assist led Alex Ferguson’s team to a 4-1 aggregate victory as they marched on to the final. It was no ordinary double, though: for his first goal, Ronaldo dispatched a free-kick past Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia from 41 yards. No.2 came after he’d sparked a counter-attack in his own half with a backheeled flick, before sprinting upfield and latching onto a low cross from Wayne Rooney to polish off a flawless attacking sequence.
4. vs Netherlands, Euro 2012
Amid a manic round-robin in the group of death, the winless Netherlands found themselves needing to win by two goals against Portugal in the last match of the group stage – something incredibly difficult to achieve against a Portuguese side led by a possessed Ronaldo.
He was incredible in that matc, wreaking havoc from the left wing and latching onto through balls with timely runs. It was a performance which secured Portugal’s progression to the next round. After Raphael van der Vaart opened the scoring for the Dutch in the 11th minute, Ronaldo equalised in the 28th before burying the Netherlands for good in the 74th minute.
5. vs Porto, 2008/09 Champions League Quarter-Finals
In 2009, Ronaldo’s cannon from 35 yards at the Estádio do Dragão catapulted Manchester United to the Champions League semi-finals. That night, the world witnessed him at full throttle, marking the first time an English team had won at Porto. Fergie’s side advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
6. vs Sweden, 2014 World Cup Qualifier
From start to finish, the second-leg World Cup play-off between Portugal and Sweden in 2013 was brutal, and the world had ringside seats to the Zlatan-Cristiano show – two behemoths combining for five goals in an unforgettable display.
Zlatan’s consecutive goals put the Swedes up 2-1 on aggregate before Ronaldo steamrolled through with a hat-trick to lift Portugal to Brazil. Truly, he saved Portugal that night in Solna.
7. vs Wolfsburg, 2015/16 Champions League Quarter-Finals
Los Blancos had failed to come back down from a 2-0 aggregate deficit over and over again in the past two decades, but any team that boasts CR7 knows they always have a chance.
When Real Madrid had their backs to the wall going into the second leg of this season’s Champions League quarter-final against Wolfsburg, statistically they were up against it. Los Blancos had failed to come back down from a 2-0 aggregate deficit over and over again in the past two decades, but any team that boasts CR7 – arguably the most clutch performer in the game today – knows they always have a chance.
Wolfsburg had a case to hold onto their lead after they nullified Ronaldo and Bale in the first leg, packing the wings and closing down channels which stifled Real Madrid’s ability to penetrate. In the second leg, though, the Spaniards’ Portuguese prince held his promise to guarantee Real Madrid’s advancement, willing his club to another semi-final appearance with a hat-trick that combined his aerial prowess and timely runs with precisely measured free-kicks to devastating effect.