Cristiano Ronaldo walked out for warmups at sun-splashed Luzhniki Stadium with diamonds affixed to each earlobe and a new goatee sprouting from his chin — like a goat, get it? Greatest of All Time.
He sparkled, even before the opening whistle of Portugal’s World Cup match against Morocco. And then he validated his flashy look with another glittering goal.
Gems removed, Ronaldo headed in Joao Moutinho’s cross after Bernardo Silva’s short corner kick in the fourth minute to become the career international scoring leader among European players, and followed with one of his look-at-me-me-me celebratory runs. Ronaldo’s tournament-high fourth goal stood up for a 1-0 win over a tenacious Moroccan team on Wednesday, putting the European champions in good position to advance to the World Cup’s knockout rounds.
Prolific scorer, pretty boy. Acrobat, diver. Winner, whiner. Goatee and goals are turning this into Ronaldo’s World Cup at 33, past the age considered a soccer player’s prime,
“He’s like a port wine,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said through a translator. “He knows how to refine his capacity and age at his best.”
Ronaldo’s competition with Lionel Messi is the great Millennial rivalry in sports, soccer’s version of Ali vs. Frazier, Bird vs. Magic, DiMaggio vs. Williams.
They’ve split the last 10 FIFA Player of the Year awards. Ronaldo has won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid in the past decade, Messi three with Barcelona.
Ronaldo covets attention. After the first of his three goals against Spain in Portugal’s opener last week, Ronaldo stroked his chin as he ran in celebration. Adidas is running an advertisement featuring Messi with a real goat.
No question Ronaldo works hard to be the best, whether it’s effort in training, nutrition to keep his body resembling Michelangelo’s “David” or ensuring proper rest.
“He does everything he needs to be better every day,” Portugal defender Cedric said. Ronaldo’s 85th goal moved him one ahead of Ferenc Puskas into sole possession of second on the career international scoring list, trailing only Ali Daei’s 109 goals for Iran. He broke free of defender Manuel Da Costa and leaned low for a header from the top of the 6-yard box.
His celebration was a ballet that would have made George Balanchine proud. Ronaldo ran toward a corner flag, and pounded the number 7 on his jersey twice — not the team crest. He jumped and twirled his right hand three times before landing with arms spread like a seagull’s wings, mouth open.
“It was beautiful for me,” Ronaldo said after FIFA presented him with his second straight man of the match award.