Cristiano Ronaldo's dazzling display against Sweden on Tuesday night, which booked Portugal a berth at next year's World Cup in Brazil, could also turn out to deliver another much-coveted prize for the Real Madrid star — this year's Ballon d'Or. With four-time winner Leo Messi out injured and Ronaldo firing on all cylinders for both club and country, perhaps for the first time, the Portguese captain can right now genuinely lay undisputed claim to the title of the best player in the world. His majestic hat-trick in the second-leg play-off in Stockholm — three marvelous displays of ruthless counterattacking and clinical finishing that gave his country a 2-3 victory — will only have bolstered his cause.
But Ronaldo, who is now Portugal's joint all-time top scorer (with Pauleta) on 47 goals, was playing down any aspirations he might have to add to his 2008 award. "I am not obsessed about the Ballon d'Or," he told Portuguese state TV station RTP. "I try to do my job well both here and in my club."
For him, it is his performances, not the prizes, that do the talking. "Every year I have demonstrated what I am. I have scored 40 or 50 goals a season and that is not in the reach of everyone."
The 28-year-old, who took the match ball home as a souvenir, denied he had directed his goal celebrations at Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who recently imitated the forward during a speech to Oxford University students and admitted he preferred Messi. "I have done my job as I have always done recently," Ronaldo said. "I don't have to give explanations to anyone, but I always try to do the best [job] possible. I speak on the field of play."
I don't have to give explanations to anyone. I speak on the field of play"
As he has been doing with all the qualifying teams, Blatter congratulated Portugal on reaching Brazil 2014 via Twitter. But he also made a point of singling out Ronaldo's performance: "Parabens Portugal!" he wrote. "The 29th team confirmed for #WorldCup; their 6th finals. Fantastic performance by @cristiano."
At the same time, Fifa decided to extend the Ballon d'Or voting deadline until November 29, so that the performances in the World Cup playoffs could be taken into account, Mundo Deportivo reported. The world governing body for soccer is thought to have sent out a note to all those eligible to vote — coaches, team captains and journalists at France Football magazine — notifying them of the extension of the deadline, which in theory should now be closed, the Spanish sports newspaper said.
In Tuesday's other World Cup playoffs, Ronaldo's Real teammate Karim Benzema helped France get out of the hole it had dug for itself and qualify for Brazil with a goal in its 3-0 win over Ukraine. After losing 2-0 in the first leg in Kiev, no slimmer scoreline would have sufficed for Les Bleus, which put in an intense, decisive and sharp performance when it needed it the most. Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho bagged the other two goals.
And as the World Cup fates of some were being decided in Europe, reigning champion Spain — which sealed qualification for Brazil by topping Group I ahead of France — revisited the scene of its famous 2010 victory, the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, for a friendly with South Africa. After an opening celebratory atmosphere in which Xabi Alonso thanked the crowd and Iker Casillas joined South African sports minister Fikile Mbulala to raise the trophy once again, the result was a 1-0 loss for the visitor and a calf injury for goalkeeper Víctor Valdés, who left the stadium on crutches. "We deserved to lose," said coach Vicente del Bosque, who admitted his team lacked "aggression going forward."