Zinedine Zidane knows what it means to score a brilliant goal on the biggest possible stage. Even for a man who has scored three goals in World Cup finals, his volley to win the 2002 Champions League final was his greatest moment.
But 16 years on Zidane’s career as a coach has largely been carried by a player who has outstripped his own achievements and his own high points on that nexus of technical quality and context. At the stage of his career when many players slow down and drop deep as their powers diminish, Ronaldo has imagined and filled a new role unlike any other in football history: that of a big-game decider, a bully on the toughest tracks.
He has turned himself, at the far side of 30, into the king of the Champions League.
Last night he scored his 118th Champions League goal before following it up with his 119th and surely his greatest ever in the competition: an overhead kick from just inside the penalty area that put Real Madrid 2-0 up and effectively back into the semi-finals. Zidane called it “one of the most beautiful goals in the history of the game”.
That goal made this the 10th consecutive Champions League game in which Ronaldo has scored, another record, a run that started with the 2017 final in Cardiff, where Ronaldo scored twice in the 4-1 win over Juventus to pick up his fourth trophy, his third with Real Madrid and his second in two years.
Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of all time but even he cannot claim to have decided so many of the biggest games all by himself over the last few years. This decade, for example, he has had to make do with only winning the Champions League twice.
Ronaldo is the most visibly measurably successful footballer in history – the numbers and the highlights are there for all to see – but here are the moments at Real Madrid when he has bent the biggest European nights his way.
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