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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo's ability to step up on the big occasion crucial for Real Madrid's Uefa Champions League hopes

Ten years after he won his first European Cup with Manchester United, the Portuguese forward goes for a fifth winners' medal on Saturday against Liverpool

Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to claim a fifth Uefa Champions League winners' medal on Saturday when Real Madrid face Liverpool in Kiev. Paul Hanna / Reuters
Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to claim a fifth Uefa Champions League winners' medal on Saturday when Real Madrid face Liverpool in Kiev. Paul Hanna / Reuters

Monday marked a decade since Cristiano Ronaldo won his first European Cup winners' medal.

A decade since Manchester United fans trekked around Europe singing "Viva Ronaldo, running down the wing, Hear United sing, Viva Ronaldo" about their best player.

The song soon caught on and took off, much like United’s run to the Moscow final that year.

The Portuguese forward scored seven times in the Uefa Champions League that season and then headed the opening goal in the final against Chelsea, that would go on to finish 1-1 before United won on penalties, despite Ronaldo having his spot-kick saved.

Even now, nine years after he left Old Trafford, United fans still sing Viva Ronaldo during games.

He is arguably the best player any of them have ever seen play for their club and they are thankful for his six years in Manchester, if not his bi-annual transfer flirtations which end in a more lucrative deal at Madrid.

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United fans sang it again last week before the FA Cup final, where United could have done with a couple of his goals as they went down 1-0 to Chelsea at Wembley Stadium.

Those fans have no doubt who they want to score in this year’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool on Saturday.

Ronaldo has won three more European Cups since 2008, all with Real Madrid. On Saturday he aims to lift the cup for a fifth time in Kiev against Liverpool.

That would put him alongside AC Milan’s great Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta, Real Madrid’s Hector Rial and Alfredo di Stefano.

Only Madrid’s Paco Gento, the favourite player of General Franco, would have more winner’s medals, with six, if he and Real are successful on Saturday.

Real Madrid won the first five European Cups between 1956-60. Gento was still in the team when they won a sixth in 1966.

A fifth for Ronaldo, who was also a losing finalist with Manchester United against Barcelona in 2009, would also move him ahead of four Barcelona players – Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique, though Pique was hardly central to his first European Cup with Manchester United.

Liverpool’s Phil Neal also has four winners' medals to his name, as does Clarence Seedorf.

Ronaldo, 33, has saved his best form for huge European game in recent seasons, silencing critics who have accused him of being past his best.

While Liverpool’s current attackers are rightly venerated, Ronaldo has still led the way in the competition.

His 15 goals in the competition so far this season put him five clear of the second and third top scorers, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, and six clear of the fourth top scorer, Sadio Mane.

Liverpool have scored 46 goals in their Champions League run, a record which has surpassed Barcelona in 1999-2000 when the competition had two group stages.

Liverpool are averaging 3.29 goals per game and even Philippe Coutinho, who left Anfield in January, has scored more goals in this season’s Champions League than Real Madrid’s second highest scorer in the competition, Karim Benzema, who has four.

Madrid are dependent on Ronaldo, though he did not score in either semi-final against Bayern Munich. He has done so in all Madrid’s other 10 games in the competition this season, though.

The Portuguese also scored 12 in the competition last season, including two in the final against Juventus in Cardiff and a hat-trick against Atletico in the semi-final.

Ronaldo hit 16 goals in the 2015-16 competition, though he did not score in the final against Atletico Madrid. He had scored in the 2014 final against the same team, a 120th minute strike when the game was already won.

He is the player Liverpool fans fear most, the one United fans want to be singing about, just as they did a decade ago.