This was why they brought him back – beyond the sentimental value, the crowd pleasing and the shirt sales. Cristiano Ronaldo wins you games, and the five-time Ballon D’or winner has that in his locker even if he’s been quiet all night long.
That was the case for most of Manchester United’s Champions League clash with Villarreal, but his presence on the pitch means he’s always a weapon until the very end. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had laboured through the contest against their stubborn Spanish visitors, until their man for the big occasion popped up in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
There he was – as he has been so many times – to smash home after his header was rebounded back to him by Jesse Lingard. Off came the shirt as the crowd were sent into pandemonium. They’ve seen this before in ‘Fergie Time’ – this time it was ‘Ole Time’, but a late winner comes all too natural to Ronaldo in this competition.
Cristiano Ronaldo netted a dramatic winner for Manchester United against Villarreal
The superstar has proven time and time again his influence in the Champions League
This was the ninth time he has scored in the 90th minute or later in this elite competition
This was the ninth Champions League goal he’s scored in the 90th minute or later, including extra time, the most of any player in the tournament’s history.
Ronaldo’s first spell at Manchester United lasted six years – but it wasn’t until he joined Real Madrid that he carved out his influential reputation in Europe’s elite competiton. Still, he enjoyed his first late goal for the Red Devils against the club he started his career with – Sporting Lisbon – back in 2007.
Just as he did against Villarreal, Ronaldo netted the winner at the death – this time a superb free kick – to ensure a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men turned it around after going 1-0 down early on, with Carlos Tevez levelling it up.
After getting his £80million move to the Bernabeu in 2009, dramatic clinchers were in constant supply from Ronaldo as Madrid began to form a stranglehold on the competition they have now won 13 times.
His first late goal in Europe came in his first spell at United as he struck against Lisbon in 2007
He would go on to score seven late Champions League goals for Los Blancos, including one in extra time, beginning with a strike against CSKA Moscow in 2012’s Round of 16.
This one was less significant – he has already struck in the 55th minute and his final blow added gloss to the scoreline to make it 4-1 against the Russian outfit.
Gonzalo Higauin and Karim Benzema were also on the scoresheet for Jose Mourinho’s men on a comfortable night as Ronaldo capped it off with a tap-in in stoppage time.
The following season he was at it again as he faced his old rivals Manchester City – the team he nearly joined this summer – and the Sky Blues were left cursing his impact as he popped up with a last minute winner to seal a thrilling 3-2 win in the group stage of the 2012-13 campaign.
|2007-08||90||Man United||Sporting Lisbon|
|2011-12||90||Real Madrid||Manchester City|
|2013-14||120||Real Madrid||Atletico Madrid|
He settled a thrilling 3-2 win over Manchester City in 2012 after moving to Real Madrid
The Sky Blues were powerless to stop the forward despite twice going ahead at the Bernabeu
Dramatic goals were in constant supply as he popped up with a late strike against Galatasary in the quarter-finals of the same season
In a pulsating contest, City had twice led at the Bernabeu through Edin Dzeko and Aleksandr Kolorov, either side of Marcelo’s leveller – before Karim Benzema made it 2-2 and Ronaldo’s shot flew past Joe Hart to nick it in the dying moments.
The Portuguese ace slid to his knees – and so did his boss Mourinho – in brilliant scenes. Galatasary were his next victim – twice. The legendary forward scored in the same season’s quarter-finals second leg – firing home in the seventh minute, before netting in the second minute of stoppage time to seal a 5-3 aggregate win, even though they lost 3-2 on the night.
The next season’s group stage the Turkish side were up against him again, and couldn’t believe their luck as Ronaldo netted a hat-trick in a thumping 6-1 romp.
It was nowhere near as close this time as he completed a second half treble, the last of which came late in the day as he skipped past three challenges before slotting home to secure Madrid’s biggest ever away win.
His most memorable stoppage time effort came against bitter rivals Atletico in the 2014 final
The picture of him with his hands on his hips while celebrating will live long in the memory
But of all his late Champions League strikes – his most memorable and most iconic by far has to be his extra time penalty in the 2014 final against bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in Lisbon.
Who can forget the scenes of Ronaldo shirtless with his hands on his hips, screaming at the crowd after thumping in his spot kick to make it 4-1 after Diego Simeone’s men had taken them past regulation time at 1-1.
Bale and Marcelo had already struck to make it 3-1 before Ronaldo polished off a stunning night from the spot to seal a famous ‘La Decima’, their tenth Champions League title.
He gave his future side Juventus a reminder of his quality by netting a penalty deep into stoppage time in 2018 to send Madrid into the semi-finals
Two seasons later he smashed in a brace against Swedish side Malmo, the second coming in the 90th minute of the group stage clash, and it would be three years before his next act of heroism.
In the 2017-18 quarter-finals, Ronaldo’s brilliance had already put Madrid 3-0 up on aggregate against Juventus – partly thanks to a stunning overhead kick in the first leg – but his future employers threatened a unthinkable comeback in Turin a double from Mario Mandzukic and one from Blaise Matuidi got them level pegging.
It wasn’t until Lucas Vasquez was hauled down by Mehdi Benatia deep into stoppage time that Ronaldo received his moment to shine once again, slotting home a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time to send Madrid through to the semi-finals. They would later win the competition once again, beating Liverpool 3-1 in the final.
Lionel Messi is Ronaldo’s closest rival, managing six stoppage time Champions League goals
Ronaldo has shown he has a matchwinning ability that not many players can match up to
Not many players in world football can match up to Ronaldo when it comes to late Champions League goals. Comparisons to Lionel Messi are constantly made during their careers but the Argentine superstar has only managed six strikes compared to his nine, while Manchester City legend Sergio Aguero is the next highest on the list with five.
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, meanwhile, has four – level with Neymar, Thomas Muller and Alvaro Morata.
So when Ronaldo came up with the goods against Villarreal on Wednesday, it wasn’t a surprise, and more of a reminder of the 36-year-old’s prowess on the European stage, and how time after time he carries his team through the storm.
He struggled to break Juventus’ hoodoo in the Champions League, but it’s clear any club who has Ronaldo on their books in this competition has a special tool at their disposal, and has to be one of the favourites to bring the trophy home.