LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s headline writers were running out of superlatives to describe Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning hat-trick performance against Sweden as the Portugal captain set his sights on lighting up the World Cup in Brazil.
“I am here,” Ronaldo shouted as he stood proud as a peacock on the pitch in Solna after one of his three goals in Portugal’s 3-2 playoff win on Tuesday that catapulted his country into next year’s finals in Portuguese-speaking Brazil.
On Wednesday, the sad, somber tunes of Portuguese national music Fado gave way to the cheery flamboyance of Brazil’s Samba as Portuguese newspapers captured the jubilant national mood.
“Colossal,” “The greatest,” “We have super man,” “Out of this world,” “Alo Brasil,” were some of the headlines that greeted the nation this morning, with all the reports giving Ronaldo a maximum 10 out of 10 for his magnificent display.
Ronaldo’s treble took him to the top of Portugal’s all-time scoring chart level on 47 goals with Pauleta. With 109 caps, 18 fewer than Portugal’s record holder Luis Figo, the Madeira-born Ronaldo is destined to break all the national team records.
However, despite playing in the last five major international tournaments, Ronaldo has been criticized for not producing the sort of form for Portugal that he has for his clubs Manchester United and now Real Madrid.
At Euro 2004, a 19-year-old Ronaldo was left in tears after the hosts lost to unfancied Greece in the final. Although he was picked for the team of the tournament, he scored just twice.
In the three major tournaments that followed, he scored only once on each occasion at Euro 2008 and the World Cup in Germany and South Africa.
He stepped up his game in Euro 2012, scoring three goals as Portugal were knocked out by eventual champions Spain on penalties in the semi-finals.
But the feeling now is that he can go further and will play a greater role for his country in Brazil with signs that his influence is growing.
At 28, Ronaldo scored his first Portugal hat-trick against Northern Ireland in September and did it again on Tuesday when the national team most needed him having also scored the only goal in the first leg of the playoff in Lisbon.
Even his rival on the night, Sweden’s talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, bowed to Ronaldo’s brilliance as he applauded the two quick-fire finishes that put Portugal 4-2 ahead on aggregate and the outcome of the playoff tie beyond doubt.
Ronaldo, who is in contention for the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or awarded to the world’s best player, said he was just doing his job and has nothing to prove.
“In the last few years, I’ve shown what I am about. Every season, I’ve scored 40, 50 goals and that is not within reach of anybody. So, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone”.
Additional reporting by Phillip O'Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Ken Ferris