Cristiano Ronaldo may have lost out yet again to Lionel Messi in the race to be crowned the world’s best footballer but he responded in the only way he knows how — by finding the net for Spanish giants Real Madrid.
The Portuguese winner again had to play second fiddle to Argentina’s all-conquering striker Messi, who plays for Real’s archrivals Barcelona, at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich on Monday.
But 48 hours later Ronaldo was firing in his 26th, 27th and 28th goals of the season as his hat-trick eased the pressure on under-fire manager Jose Mourinho with victory over Celta Vigo in the Spanish Copa del Rey.
Real are holders of Spain’s most prestigious competition behind the Primera Liga yet trailed Celta 2-1 after the first leg in December. But Ronaldo took just three minutes to level things up with a vicious, swerving shot from distance.
Less than 20 minutes later the 27-year-old doubled his tally as he swept Croatia international Luka Modric’s incisive pass into the net.
Ronaldo had another goal chalked off before halftime as Real enjoyed near total domination but it was a different story in the second period after Sergio Ramos received the 15th red card of his career.
The defender got a second yellow card with 18 minutes remaining for catching Augusto Fernandez after they both fell to the turf.
After that goalkeeper Iker Casillas, controversially dropped by Mourinho in recent weeks much to the anger of the club’s fans, made two important saves to preserve Real’s advantage before Ronaldo completed his treble with a low finish.
Ronaldo then set up Germany midfielder Sami Khedira for a fourth goal to ensure a 5-2 aggregate victory and a clash with Valencia in the next round.
Sevilla also went through to the quarterfinals. Despite a 2-1 home defeat by Malaga, Sevilla triumphed 6-2 on aggregate.
They will now face Real Zaragoza who beat ten-man Levante 2-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate to progress to the last eight of the competition.
In England, Chelsea were shocked 2-0 at home in the semifinals of the League Cup by fellow Premier League outfit Swansea.
A mistake in each half from Chelsea’s Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic gifted goals to Spanish forward Michu and striker Danny Graham in the first leg of their final four clash.
The League Cup, first contested in 1960, is regarded as the third competition in English football behind the Premier League and the FA Cup.
Chelsea, managed by former Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez, now have a difficult task to qualify for the Wembley final when the two sides meet in Wales for the second leg on January 23.