Cristiano Ronaldo walked out for warm up at sun-splashed Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow with diamonds in each ear lobe and a new goatee sprouting from his chin - like a goat, get it?
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.
Ronaldo headed in teammate Joao Moutinho’s cross pitch pass 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 Portugal in good position to advance to the World Cup’s knockout rounds.
When asked about his new facial look, Ronaldo said during a television interview he didn’t shave his chin before last week’s game against Spain and promised teammate Ricardo Quaresma that if he scored he would keep the goatee throughout the tournament.
Goatee and goals are turning this into Ronaldo’s World Cup at 33, past the age considered a soccer player’s prime,
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, football’s version of boxing’s Ali vs Frazier, or basketball’s Bird vs Magic.
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 a statue of a Greek god, 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 Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas into sole possession of second on the career international scoring list, trailing only Ali Daei’s 109 goals for Iran.
His celebration was a spectacle as he 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.
Later in the year, he dyed his hair gold before accepting the Ballon d’Or - or golden ball, awarded to the best football player of the year as voted on by football journalists.
Long known for putting lots of hair gel in his hair, Ronaldo hopes to be part of a team that ‘jells’ into a world champion. He helped the Portuguese reach the semi-finals in his first World Cup in 2006 and led Portugal to its first major title at the European Championship two years ago in France.
If Portugal wins its group and Argentina is second - or if Portugal is second and Argentina first - Ronaldo and Messi could even face each other in the final.
Could Ronaldo stay at a high level long enough to play in a fifth World Cup in 2022?
“His physical capacity, his technical prowess, his strategy, he’s always evolving,” Santos said, “contrarily to the regular players.”