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Dirty Tackle

Cristiano Ronaldo makes Northern Ireland pay for ‘cheap Gareth Bale’ chant, dedicates Portugal win to his late father

Brooks Peck
Dirty Tackle

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Up 2-1 against 10-man UEFA World Cup qualifying Group F leaders Portugal, Northern Ireland fans were feeling confident. They jeered Cristiano Ronaldo from the start and with their edge on the man vilified for constantly oozing his own brand of smarmy self-belief, they went a step further. "You're just a cheap Gareth Bale," they chanted at Windsor Park early in the second half, referencing Ronaldo's new teammate at Real Madrid who may or may not have broken the world record for the highest transfer fee that once undisputedly belonged to Ronaldo.

Then Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt was sent off to make it 10 v 10. And with the numbers once again even, Ronaldo scored twice in a nine minute span — both headers. That made it 3-2 in Portugal's favor. In the 80th minute, Kyle Lafferty was also sent off, reducing Norther Ireland to nine men, and Ronaldo ended the match three minutes later with a free kick through the wall to complete his 15-minute hat trick.

Portugal won 4-2. Ronaldo scored the first international hat trick of his career and in doing so, he also surpassed the legendary Eusebio as his country's second best scorer of all time with 43 goals (Pauleta is first with 47). After the match, Ronaldo dedicated the win to his father, who died eight years ago at the age of 52 from complications of his alcoholism (perhaps because of this, Cristiano himself does not drink to this day).

For years, opposing fans have tried to take Ronaldo down a peg by chanting Lionel Messi's name at him. German, Bosnian and Danish fans have all done it and succeeded to the point where an agitated Ronaldo compared his performance at Euro 2012 to Messi's at Copa America 2011. Even fans in Portugal have subjected him to the Messi taunt. But he says he's used to it. He says they're just jealous of him because he's handsome and rich and a great player.

Ronaldo has scored an astonishing total of 80 La Liga goals in the last two season, but Messi has scored 96. Ronaldo won the Ballon d'Or in 2008, but Messi won in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Ronaldo says the barbed comparisons don't bother him, he tries to play up his confidence as a shield, but his defensiveness and his sneers betray the act and reveal his relatable insecurities to those willing to see him as human.

Now opposing fans are trying to turn someone on his own team into another insult against him. But using this latest slight against his genius and combining it with the desire to honor his father, he rose above it with a superb performance that also made a bit of personal and national history.

This was the first match of any kind that Ronaldo played since Real Madrid acquired Gareth Bale and Gareth Bale wasn't even in the building. Be afraid.

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