Cristiano Ronaldo Is the Best Player in the World (Right Now)

Cristiano Ronaldo would probably have fought all of Sweden to get Portugal into the World Cup. Turns out he only had to fight 11 of them. And on Tuesday, just outside of Stockholm, he won.

Portugal beat Sweden yesterday, 3-2, with all three goals coming from Ronaldo, each with their own degree of slap-your-father-in-the-face athletic majesty. For the first half, Sweden did a good job of containing Ronaldo, and whatever it couldn’t contain, Ronaldo did himself. He was doing Ronaldo things — going down too easy, trying to beat four men when he had an open teammate streaking ahead — all the things that somehow make this once-in-several-generations talent hard to actually love.

Then, over the course of 40 minutes, he scored three goals, sent Portugal to the World Cup, probably won the Ballon d’Or, and, perhaps most importantly, provided everyone who was watching one of those moments they will tell their friends and family about for years to come. You watch hundreds of games to see 40 minutes like that. Those three goals, that performance, that player … that’s why cheering was invented: to appreciate something like that.

His first came off his left foot and put Portugal up 1-0 and in control. Then Zlatan Ibrahimovic, himself a loved and hated god walking the Earth, scored two goals, quickly, including this David Blaine trick of a free kick, to put Sweden up 2-1, and 2-2 on aggregate.

Ronaldo’s second goal was a statement of intent:

And his third punched Portugal’s ticket to Brazil and brought on a celebration worthy of the achievement …

Ibrahimovic is cooler, Lionel Messi is ultimately better, Gareth Bale is the shiny, new toy, Franck Ribery is the best player on the best club team, and then there are the High Fidelity record store clerks who will tell you that the best player in the world is, like, Isco, or whatever. Ronaldo is a preening, diving egotist and a lousy teammate who is in it for himself. Unless, of course, you actually watch the games. Then you see a guy who will and usually can do anything to get a win. And there really are no limits to what he can do. We’re seeing that now.

This is a guy who is probably one of the four or five greatest players of all time, but we don’t really treat him that way. As Andy Brassell recounts in his wonderful Guardian piece about Ronaldo’s performance, there was a Euro 2012 qualifier in Sarajevo where Ronaldo flipped off some young Bosnia-Herzegovina fans who were chanting, “Messi! Messi!” For any number of reasons, Ronaldo is just hard to love. But after last night, if you didn’t already, you should at the very least feel lucky to be alive while he is playing. You should appreciate him. Hell, Ibrahimovic certainly does.

Filed Under: Chris Ryan, Cristiano Ronaldo, Soccer