Portugal against Sweden was adjudged to be a battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the Real Madrid man trumping the Paris Saint-Germain striker in the bid to qualify for the World Cup.
The former Manchester United attacker scored the winner in a 1-0 victory in Lisbon on Friday, before netting an impressive hat-trick in the return leg on Tuesday.
Ronaldo will now be one of the main attractions at next summer’s World Cup, with the forward in the form of his life and Portugal’s talisman.
Given his latest heroics on the national stage, does it give Ronaldo an extra case to be crowned winner of the Ballon d’Or this year?
There has been talk about the likes of Franck Ribery pushing for inclusion in the reckoning, but realistically the winner will either be Ronaldo or current incumbent Lionel Messi.
The pair have had a personal rivalry over the years while their clubs jostle for Spanish and European dominance, with the Barcelona man claiming the upper hand more times than not.
Messi has been named as the best player in world football over the last three years, with the Argentine attacker going for an unprecedented fourth successive victory.
However, the case for Ronaldo to dethrone the La Masia graduate is building.
Messi has had a relatively ordinary start to the new campaign by his high standards, and has suffered from niggling injuries over the last couple of months.
Despite still hitting the net on a regular basis, a ‘drought’ of four games without a goal showed that the South American is actually human, with chinks in his armour seemingly appearing.
Ronaldo on the other hand has continued his ruthlessness in front of goal, but it is his exploits on the national stage that may result in him getting the nod.
Famous players from past generations, such as Pele, Maradona and Cruyff, were predominantly adjudged on their achievements in the national game. Today’s stars have the Champions League to showcase their considerable abilities, but for Messi and Ronaldo to be adjudged as some of the best ever they need to prove themselves for their countries.
The World Cup is the stage for these two to shoot themselves into footballing folklore, with Ronaldo’s efforts over the last week a testament that his excellent form is not solely saved for when he plays for his club.
image: © Jan Solo