MADRID • Cristiano Ronaldo heads to tomorrow's Champions League final against Juventus on the brink of realising a burning ambition of matching Lionel Messi's record of winning the Ballon d'Or five times.
"I want to catch Messi," he confessed when collecting his third World Player of the Year crown in 2015. Now the Portuguese forward has four to his name, but Messi still remains one step ahead with five.
The two have dominated the award for the past decade in the battle to not just be considered the best of their generation but also to be among the best of all time.
Yet, while Juventus' stubborn defence forced Messi to fire blanks in a 3-0 quarter-final aggregate win for the Italian side over Barcelona, Ronaldo can complete another stellar season and improve his Ballon d'Or chances by ensuring Real become the first side to retain the Champions League crown.
"I am aware of the fact that what I've done in football has already left and will continue to leave a mark," he told Uefa.com. "I haven't broken so many records by accident. That's not an obsession for me, but I do like breaking them."
Ronaldo has already added his name to more records during this season's Champions League.
His hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals made him the first man to score more than 100 Champions League goals. And he duly added another hat-trick in the semi-final clash against rivals Atletico Madrid to carry Real to the final in Cardiff tomorrow.
BUFFON VERSUS RONALDO IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
The two have met on four previous occasions in Europe’s elite football club competition and Ronaldo has netted an impressive five goals against Buffon from 13 shots – a 38.5 per cent conversion rate. Impressively, the Real Madrid forward’s five goals have come from just six shots on target, meaning the Juventus goalkeeper has saved just one effort.
Games played: 107
Minutes played: 9,750
Goals conceded: 97
Goals conceded per game: 0.91
Clean sheets: 47
Clean sheet rate: 44%
Games won: 50
Win rate percentage: 47
Games played: 139
Minutes played: 12,039
Goals scored: 103
Goals scored per game: 0.74
Total shots: 801
Shot conversion rate: 12.9 %
Goals plus assists: 136
Minutes per goal involvement: 89
"He has a good opportunity with the season that he has had, above all in the Champions League this year," Predrag Mijatovic, who scored the winning goal when Real last met Juventus in the Champions League final in 1998, told AFP.
However, Mijatovic also believes Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could finally end Messi and Ronaldo's reign if he lifts the Champions League title for the first time at 39 to complete the treble for the Italian giants.
"I think the next Ballon d'Or will come from the team that wins the Champions League," he said.
"Cristiano is there, as is Buffon and other great players at Real Madrid like Sergio Ramos that could aspire to it."
Ramos more than Ronaldo has been Real's hero in beating Atletico in two of the past three Champions League finals, scoring in both games in Lisbon and Milan.
However, the Spanish international does not seem interested in depriving his team-mate of a fifth Ballon d'Or to tie Messi's record.
"If I wanted to win individual awards I would have played tennis," Ramos said on Tuesday.
In contrast to Real's previous finals in recent seasons, Ronaldo arrives in Cardiff in his best form of the campaign having been spared from a series of league games recently.
Despite Ronaldo missing nine LaLiga games in total, Real did not miss a beat, winning every single one to edge out Barcelona and claim a first league title in five years.
"It was very intelligent management on the part of the coach because everyone played and contributed," said Ronaldo about Zinedine Zidane's tactics. "I feel better than in recent years. That is why I think this year will be good for me.
"I hope to help the team with a good performance and goals if possible."
If he adds to his 14 goals in his last nine games against the meanest defence in this season's Champions League, Ronaldo will likely have his name etched on yet another Ballon d'Or.