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Ronaldo primed for Messi-matching feat

China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-07 10:23
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal against Borussia Dortmund during the champions League game at Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain, Dec 6, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS - Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to match his great rival Lionel Messi on Thursday night by claiming a fifth Ballon d'Or as recognition for leading Real Madrid to a La Liga and Champions League double last season.

Messi, Barcelona's 30-year-old Argentine superstar, won the coveted award from 2009 to 2012 and in 2015. Portugal's Ronaldo, who is 32, took the honors in 2008, 2013, 2014 and last year.

The man who came to maturity under the watchful eye of former Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson clinched his fourth Ballon d'Or after an unforgettable season, first spearheading Real to the Champions League title before also leading his homeland to Euro 2016 glory in Paris.

The award, from France Football magazine, is decided by a vote by soccer journalists, with each selecting their top five from a list of 30.

British bookmakers have stopped taking bets on Ronaldo, who is a huge 3-1 favorite to win, with Messi, trophyless last season, at 6-1.

Behind this pair, the bookies round out their own top five with Paris Saint-Germain's gifted Brazilian forward Neymar, the veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and the prolific Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane all at 33-1.

The 2016-17 season was in a way just as glorious for Ronaldo, who started the campaign slowly before Real shaded Barcelona to the domestic title and then became the first side in the modern era to defend its European crown.

After seeing off Napoli, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the knockout rounds, Ronaldo scored twice in a 4-1 win over Juventus in the final, taking his tally to 12 goals in the competition that season.

"Last season was exceptional. We won the league and the Champions League, where I was again the top scorer," Ronaldo told French daily L'Equipe.

Real has a staggering seven players on the shortlist of 30, with Karim Benzema, Marcelo, Isco, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos all nominated alongside Ronaldo.

The only other Barca player other than Messi is Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez.

Seven sought

On the prospect of equaling Messi's five wins, Ronaldo quipped: "I want seven. Five is good but seven is my lucky number, so seven would be great."

"I want seven children and seven Ballons d'Or."

Despite his position as outsider, Messi can take heart from the award's history of upsets, with the Barcelona superstar himself clinching the title against the odds in 2010.

That season purists pointed to the achievements of Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, winner of the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup and a World Cup finalist with the Netherlands.

Also in Messi's favor is the fact that Ronaldo has only scored twice in La Liga this term - although he has netted eight goals in five games in the Champions League - and Real is already eight points behind league-leading Barca.

Messi tops the La Liga scoring chart with 13 goals and also secured a brilliant hat-trick for Argentina against Ecuador to clinch a World Cup place in October.

"Leo is like Maradona for those of our generation," said Messi's compatriot, Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, himself tipped as a future winner.

"He dragged us to the World Cup with the hat-trick in Ecuador. He is a brilliant born leader."

Aside from Messi and Ronaldo, the Ballon d'Or, originally conceived to honor only European players before going global in 2007, has three triple winners: France's Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten from the Netherlands.

This year's winner is being announced live on the L'Equipe television channel as the French sports newspaper is owned by the same company as France Football.

Associated Press

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