November 16, 2019
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Cristiano Ronaldo in Russia: The highs and lows which helped define the Portuguese star‘s career Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus head to Russia to face Lokomotiv Moscow in the UEFA Champions League this week, as the Portuguese striker returns to a country that has been the setting for some landmark moments in his career.

Juventus and Lokomotiv meet just over a fortnight after the Italians earned a 2-1 comeback victory in their Group D match in Turin, courtesy of a double from Paulo Dybala inside the last 15 minutes.

Ronaldo was not on the scoresheet that night, but this week will be returning to a country where he has found the net eight times in 12 previous matches.

Here, we take a look at the highs and lows on Russian soil that have help shaped the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s career for club and country.

2005 – BUDDING MEGASTAR 

On Wednesday night Ronaldo will return to Lokomotiv’s RZD Arena, the venue where he played his first match in Russia as a precious 20-year-old almost a decade and a half ago.

Already emerging as one of the brightest talents in world football, the then-Manchester United winger was part of the Portugal team taking on Russia in a World Cup qualifier in September 2005.

Ronaldo was already an integral part of the national team set-up under manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, and had scored a double as Portugal hammered Russia 7-1 at home earlier in the campaign.

But winning his 25th cap in Moscow, Ronaldo drew a blank as Portugal had to settle for a 0-0 draw, despite Alexey Smertin being sent off for the hosts.  

It proved a minor setback for Portugal, and they went on to top Group 3 while Russia finished third, missing out on qualification for the 2006 FIFA showpiece in Germany. 

Portugal reached the semi-finals in Germany, beating England along the way on penalties in a controversial game in which Wayne Rooney was sent off and Ronaldo scored the winning spot-kick, before losing to France in the last four. 

2008 – CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GLORY

Ronaldo’s next appearance in the Russian capital came on one of the most momentous nights in his career as Manchester United met Chelsea in the Champions League final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

By that time established as one of the world‘s best players, Ronaldo was aiming to cap a season in which he ended up scoring 42 goals in 49 games for the Old Trafford club – including eight in the Champions League.  

True to form, Ronaldo opened the scoring in the 26th minute in Moscow, rising high to aim a trademark header into the Chelsea goal.

But Frank Lampard struck back for Chelsea on the stroke of half time in a pulsating encounter in which the heavens opened, unleashing torrential rain as the game went on.

The contest went to penalties, with Ronaldo missing his team’s third spot-kick. However, John Terry’s famous slip allowed United a way back into the shootout and victory was confirmed when Nikola Anelka’s effort was saved by Edwin van der Saar, causing Ronaldo to collapse in tears onto the Luzhniki turf.

It would be the first of Ronaldo’s five Champions League winners medals, while later that year the Portuguese star would be crowned Ballon d’Or winner for the first time.      

2012 – ON THE HUNT FOR LA DECIMA    

Ronaldo made the switch to Real Madrid from Manchester for a record fee in the summer of 2009, and his one and only appearance in Russia as a Blancos player was in February of 2012, as Real met CSKA Moscow in the Champions League last 16 first leg in front of 70,000 fans at Luzhniki.       

Having picked up maximum points from a group containing Lyon, Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb, Jose Mourinho‘s team faced CSKA – who had finished second behind Inter Milan in their group.

Ronaldo bagged his fourth goal of that season‘s competition when he opened the scoring in the 28th minute, firing under CSKA ‘keeper Sergei Chepchugov. 

But the Portugal striker spurned an 84th-minute chance to double Real’s lead, before Pontus Wernbloom equalized for the hosts with a last-minute volley. 

Things were far more comfortable for Real in the return leg as they won 4-1 in Madrid, Ronaldo scoring twice.

With the Portuguese star in free-scoring form, Real sensed that it could finally be the season they ended their obsessive quest for an elusive 10th European Cup.

However, after sweeping past Cypriot minnows Apoel in the last eight, they lost on penalties to Bayern Munich in the semifinals, with Ronaldo missing his spot-kick at the Bernabeu. Ronaldo would have to wait until the 2014 final to get his hands on the Champions League trophy for the second time, as Real finally ended their wait for a 10th title in Lisbon.    

2012 – DEFEAT IN 99TH GAME FOR PORTUGAL 

Ronaldo was back in Moscow later in 2012 as he captained Portugal against Fabio Capello’s Russia in their World Cup Group F qualifier in October, winning his 99th cap for his country.

In the event, Ronaldo suffered his first taste of defeat on Russian soil as Alexander Kerzhakov‘s smart finish inside the first 10 minutes handed Russia a 1-0 win on a frustrating night for Portugal.

Portugal won the return game in Lisbon as Helder Postiga scored, but Russia topped the group and forced Ronaldo and Co. to progress to Brazil 2014 via the playoffs.

The superstar forward again came to the rescue netting all four goals in the two legs against Sweden – including a second-leg hat-trick that put him level with Pauleta on 47 goals as his country’s top scorer. However, the World Cup campaign in Brazil would end in disappointment as they crashed out at the group stage.   

2017 – CONFEDERATIONS CUP

Ronaldo was to wait five years before he next played in Russia, leading his country out at the FIFA Confederations Cup. Portugal qualified for the tournament as European Champions, and were drawn in a group with hosts Russia as well as New Zealand and Mexico.

By that stage a four-time Ballon d’Or winner (he would win his fifth accolade later that year), Ronaldo was the blockbuster attraction of the World Cup warm-up tournament.

Portugal opened their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Mexico in Kazan, with Ronaldo failing to register. However, he was on target in the next game against Russia, putting an eighth-minute header past Igor Akinfeev as Portugal won 1-0 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

Ronaldo had provided a memorable moment in the build-up to the match, planting a kiss on the forehead of young wheelchair user Polina Haeredinova in an image that melted the hearts of millions around the world.

Next up were New Zealand in Portugal’s final group game in St. Petersburg, where Ronaldo scored a penalty in a 4-0 demolition. However, he was unable to help Fernando Santos’ team break the deadlock against Chile in the semifinal in Kazan as Portugal crashed out on penalties, Ronaldo not even getting the chance to take his spot-kick.

On a personal note, Ronaldo was given permission to skip the third-place playoff against Mexico to return home and welcome the arrival of his twins, Mateo and Eva, born to a surrogate mother.

2018 – WORLD CUP HAT-TRICK AND MORE MILESTONES

Aged 33, Ronaldo returned to Russia with Portugal in the summer of 2018 for what seemed likely to be his last shot at securing World Cup glory. 

The forward had made his 150th appearance for Portugal in the run-up to the tournament, and by a twist of fate the team had been drawn in the same group as Iberian rivals Spain, as well as Morocco and Iran.

The Spanish press broke news of a tax case against Ronaldo on the day of the match against Spain in Sochi, but in the event it did little to distract the Portugal number 7 as he became the oldest player to score a World Cup hat-trick, helping Portugal to a 3-3 draw in an all-time classic on the Black Sea coast.

Ronaldo’s 88th-minute equalizer came from a stunning free-kick, which also drew him level with Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas on 84 goals as Europe’s all-time top international scorer.

Ronaldo would go on to break that record in Portugal’s next game against Morocco at Luzhniki in Moscow, as he headed in unmarked from a corner.

Portugal secured a contentious 1-1 draw against Iran in their final group game, before losing 2-1 to Uruguay in the last 16 in Sochi, with Ronaldo failing to find the net in either game. However, the defeat to Uruguay did leave one of the tournament‘s most enduring images as Ronaldo helped the injured Edinson Cavani from the pitch. 

Ronaldo signed for Turin giants Juventus later that summer, and returns with the Italians this week to write the latest chapter of his Russian storybook.     

Conrad Contributor

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