Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning hat trick in the second half of the second leg of Portugal's World Cup qualifying playoff against Sweden held off a late onslaught from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Those three away goals, plus Ronaldo's lone goal in the first leg, put Portugal in the World Cup on a 4-2 aggregate score. And though Ballon d'Or voting ended last week, Ronaldo's one-man qualification show proved just how deserving of the award he is.
Zlatan was mostly invisible in the first leg and in the first half of the second leg, but after Ronaldo made it 2-0 on aggregate in the 50th minute, he started breathing fire. He scored a header off a corner kick in the 68th minute to make it 2-1 and blasted a free kick under the wall to make it 2-2 in the 72nd minute, but Portugal still led with the one away goal. Ronaldo then obliterated any chance Sweden had of completing the comeback by scoring in the 77th and 79th minutes.
The stadium went quiet, Zlatan was silenced and when the final whistle blew, Portugal sealed their place in the World Cup. "The excitement I can bring to the game and the goals I can score - nobody can rival me for that," Zlatan said before the first leg, stating that the World Cup needs him more than Ronaldo. But Ronaldo proved otherwise on the pitch and when he completed his hat trick, a defeated Zlatan applauded.
Ronaldo has scored an absurd 13 goals his last six matches for club and country. With Lionel Messi injured, he's taking the opportunity to show the world why everyone should appreciate what he can do too Whether it results in a golden trophy shouldn't be a required validation of his tremendous talent. As everyone in Portugal will now agree, memorable and transcendent performances like this are worth more than trophies anyway.
UPDATE: After getting into trouble for declaring his preference for Lionel Messi, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has now jumped on the Ronaldo bandwagon...