KIEV (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo responded to his worst run of domestic form at Real Madrid with a record-smashing scoring streak in the Champions League and in Saturday’s final he can join the club’s iconic forward Alfredo di Stefano on five European Cup triumphs.
Ronaldo, 33, leads the competition’s scoring charts for a remarkable fifth year in a row and a goal against Liverpool in Kiev will see him surpass Di Stefano and become the only player to score in four European Cup finals.
Slowed down by a five-game suspension for pushing a referee in the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona back in August, Ronaldo endured a barren spell of only four goals in the first half of the Liga season as Madrid fell way behind runaway leaders and eventual champions Barca.
Ronaldo continued to reign supreme in Europe’s top club competition, however, and goes into Saturday’s final with 15 goals in 12 games this season.
He became the first player ever to score in all six matches in a Champions League group stage in December and with further strikes against Paris St Germain and Juventus in the knockout rounds he set yet another record in the competition by scoring in 10 consecutive games in the same season.
He recovered his domestic form, too, finishing the Liga campaign with 26 goals, only trailing Lionel Messi who finished top scorer with 34.
Ronaldo’s outrageous bicycle kick against Juventus in Turin was widely hailed as the greatest goal in the competition’s history.
He also showed nerves of steel to strike the decisive injury-time penalty in the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu to pull Madrid through to the semis 4-3 on aggregate.
“I’ve had an amazing season in the Champions League,” said Ronaldo, who has scored a record 120 goals in the competition overall.
“You need to be up for it and in this club you can never let up, let alone in this competition, with the history this club has in it. On a personal level it motivates me a lot.”
Ronaldo struck for Manchester United against Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final and hit the last goal from the penalty spot in Real’s 4-1 win in extra-time over Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final.
He could not score against Atletico in the 2016 final although he buried the final penalty in their shoot-out win, while he netted twice in last year’s 4-1 win over Juventus in Cardiff.
“I want to be fine on Saturday, play well, to score if I can, but the important thing is to win – it doesn’t matter who scores, what matters is making history,” Ronaldo added.
Ronaldo is bidding to join a group of players who have won the European Cup five times, including former Real great Di Stefano. Former Real winger Paco Gento holds the record with six European Cup winners medals.
Ronaldo’s preparations for the Kiev final hit a snag when he sprained his ankle while scoring against Barca on May 6, although he played and netted in their final Liga game of the season against Villarreal last Saturday.
“I can see that he is feeling very good, he’ll be at 150 percent although if he is 149 percent that’s ok,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane said of his talisman on Friday.
“He lives to play games like this.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis