Ronaldo peaks at key moment of the season
MADRID: It had been a quiet season for Cristiano Ronaldo. Until he faced Bayern Munich.
He was being outshone by the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar both in the Spanish league and in the Champions League.
He hadn't been scoring a lot of goals and was even jeered at times by Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
But things quickly changed in two decisive games against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, when the star forward scored five goals to keep alive Madrid's hopes of retaining the trophy.
Ronaldo had scored only two goals in the eight Champions League games he had played before the quarterfinals. He came into the series against Bayern in a scoring drought of nearly seven months in the European tournament, and had scored only once in his last five Madrid games in all competitions.
In the Spanish league, Ronaldo's 19 goals leave him five behind Suarez and 10 behind Messi.
But Ronaldo knew things were about to start going his way.
"I said after the first leg that I was preparing to reach the end of the season in good shape," Ronaldo said. "It's something that I've struggled to do over the last three or four years. But now I'm feeling good and the team has been playing really well, that's what's important."
Ronaldo scored a "perfect" hat trick on Tuesday, with his head, right foot and left foot, as Madrid defeated Bayern 4-2 after extra time to advance to the semifinals 6-3 on aggregate. Replays showing at least one of the goals was offside didn't puncture his happiness.
"I'm fortunate enough to have scored three really important goals," he said. "I'm incredibly happy."
The Portugal forward had scored both goals in Madrid's 2-1 first-leg win in Germany last week.
The hat trick made him the first player to score 100 Champions League goals.
"What you see Cristiano doing is really impressive," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "The goals, the way he finishes them, in such key moments... He always knows when there's an important occasion and he's going to be there. There are few players who can do what Ronaldo has done and we all know that."
Ronaldo scored Madrid's goal with a header, then put the team in control in extra time with a close-range shot in the 105th minute. He netted again from inside the area after a breakaway in the 110th to secure his club a place in the semifinals of the Champions League for the seventh straight season.
"It's a special competition for Real Madrid," Ronaldo said. "We want to win it again this year. We are going to fight for it."
Ronaldo was cheered by the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium after the match, with fans loudly chanting his name, but he took the opportunity to send a message to those who had criticized him recently.
"All I ask is that they don't boo me here, that's all," Ronaldo said. "I always give my best, and even when I don't score I'm trying to help the team."
If he keeps playing the way he did in the two games against Bayern, he likely won't have to worry about being jeered anymore.