Ronaldo defying age and critics to lead Portugal in Russia
Rewind to late 2017 and suggestions of a Cristiano Ronaldo decline were in full swing.
Ronaldo managed just four goals in LaLiga heading into this year as Barcelona ran away with the title, though he did net nine times in the Champions League.
Criticism and claims the end could be nigh did not go down well with the 33-year-old superstar.
"I don't agree with what people are saying about me," Ronaldo told L'Equipe in November. "People don't know the difference between playing well, playing okay and not scoring goals.
"I'm looked at as a goal machine, like a guy who has to score all the time. If that isn't the case, nobody cares if I've played well or not, I'm only judged on scoring.
"I accept the criticism, but I don't agree with it. That's why I avoid reading or hearing what is said about me. But I have no choice but to accept it; I can't control the world."
Write him off at your peril.
Feliz por ter sido eleito o melhor em campo. Bom trabalho de equipa! pic.twitter.com/EjLIZxp3Dm— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) June 16, 2018
Ronaldo ended the season with 44 goals in all competitions as Real Madrid claimed a third successive European crown and the five-time Ballon d'Or winner has carried his incredible form over to Russia.
What LeBron James is to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ronaldo led Portugal to an incredible 3-3 draw with 2010 World Cup winners Spain in their opener.
It was a hat-trick performance beyond his years – Ronaldo defying his age to leave club team-mate Sergio Ramos in his wake at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi.
A pair of first-half goals was capped off by a sensational last-minute free-kick as Ronaldo – who ran Spain ragged – became the oldest hat-trick scorer at a World Cup.
"He is getting better and better with age," Portugal team-mate Bernardo Silva said in the mixed zone afterwards.
Not done there, Ronaldo shattered more records when he lifted the European champions past Morocco on matchday two.
An early header was enough for Ronaldo to become the highest-scoring European in international history, surpassing Ferenc Puskas with 85 goals.
"Cristiano, he's like a port wine, he knows how to age well," Portugal head coach Fernando Santos said following the clash in Moscow. "His physical prowess, his strategy…he is constantly evolving because he knows himself what he can do.
"He doesn't want to do today what he did four years ago. In four years' time he won't be doing what he is doing today."
Objectivo cumprido. Unidos e focados para os oitavos de final. Vamos Portugal pic.twitter.com/fEdKbFB9X8— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) June 25, 2018
The third and final group game did not go according to plan as Ronaldo missed a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Iran, but the Portugal captain continues to shine among the stars in Russia.
Ronaldo returns to Sochi – the scene of his unforgettable treble on matchday one – for Saturday's last-16 showdown against Uruguay.
While he may no longer be the fleet-footed and tricky winger we saw at Sporting CP, Manchester United and early in his Santiago Bernabeu career, Ronaldo is now firmly one of the best forwards in football. His mind-numbing renaissance is incredible.
So, beware Uruguay.