There had been much talk about how Ronaldo would fare on Wednesday. It was his match with Real Madrid versus Manchester United, where he spent growing from a promising young player to arguably the best forward in the world from 2003 to 2009.
The pre-game questions were endless. Would Ronaldo and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson interact with one another? Would Ronald score a goal? If he did find the back of the net, would he celebrate?
Well, as most soccer fans around the big blue marble know, Real Madrid and Manchester United did not disappoint. The two sides played to a thrilling 1-1 tie in their Round of 16 match at the Bernabeu, one that should set up a captivating second leg.
Both Real Madrid and Manchester United came out attacking, with the latter squad getting a goal from Danny Welbeck in the 20th minute to take an early lead. With his team down and their backs against the wall, the spotlight grew even greater for Ronaldo's response.
What happened just minutes later was quintessential Ronaldo.
Linking up with Angel Di Maria on a cross for what feels like the kajillionth time, Ronaldo soared above the Manchester United defense and sent a beautiful header past the outstretched arms of David De Gea. It was a goal that was likely second-nature to Di Maria and Ronaldo, but that doesn't make it any less noteworthy.
Di Maria's cross was perfect, given both a charge of power and splendid use of loft and timing. Ronaldo's header, his first in Champions League with Madrid (per The Guardian), was purely struck and placed in an impossible spot for De Gea to defend.
To answer the question on everyone's mind, Ronaldo did not celebrate. His respect for his time at Old Trafford trumped any desire to bask in the moment of yet another on-field triumph.
Not necessarily quintessential Ronaldo there, but indicative of his understanding of history and the moment.
Ronaldo's goal equalized the game and put Madrid in a position of power for the remainder of the match. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful in finding another goal, they held possession for 61 percent of the match and attempted an astounding 28 shots (eight on goal).
Madrid are undoubtedly disappointed with not taking a lead back to the second leg at Old Trafford. But on the individual level, Wednesday's goal will only further Ronaldo's legacy.
If there was any time for a disappearing act, it was against Manchester United. His loyalties to the club are obvious, and the 28-year-old star has even recently been linked back to his old club. With his contract situation still unresolved and the pressures of playing against Ferguson's squad weighing on his mind, it would have been understandable for that header to go wide and hit the crossbar.
But Ronaldo stepped up to the plate and proved his worth on what had to feel like a massive personal stage. Again. After the early part of his career was fraught with questionable performances in big games, Ronaldo has blossomed into a performer on any stage, no matter the size.
Perhaps he's just reached the apex of his abilities. Maybe Ronaldo is at the point where he cannot help himself from finding the back of the net. Wednesday was his 183rd career goal for Madrid and he will almost certainly eclipse 200 later this calendar year.
The only question is when it will happen. He may ascend with a late-season surge in La Liga, where Madrid could most certainly use help catching the juggernaut known as Barcelona. Or it could happen in a meaningless match somewhere down the line.
For now, Ronaldo has more pressing issues to worry about. Namely, Madrid's standing in La Liga (third as of Wednesday) and how the club will fare in its second match against Manchester United on Mar. 5, Ronaldo's first match at Old Trafford on the opposing side since leaving.
If Wednesday was any indication of how he will perform, something tells me Ronaldo will have at least one more goal sans celebration during this Champions League season.
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