Ronaldo, Salah eye Ballon D'or

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (left) during an Uefa Champions League football match, on May 1, 2018, and Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah during an English Premier League match in Liverpool, on Dec 26, 2017.
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (left) during an Uefa Champions League football match, on May 1, 2018, and Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah during an English Premier League match in Liverpool, on Dec 26, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

World's best player award on the line as duo hope to continue scoring form in today's final

KIEV • In an age when individual awards are given ever greater importance, today's Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool - and a showdown between Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah - could determine the winner of the next Ballon d'Or.

After all, Ronaldo has won the prestigious prize on the back of helping Real to each of their recent European Cup triumphs.

It is perhaps difficult to bring the final down to just two players, given the strength in depth available - especially in attack - to Real and Liverpool.

But this is the era of the individual, at a time when Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi have dominated the Ballon d'Or for a decade.

The status of each is such that the annual prize for the world's best player generates fierce debate.

Ronaldo can certainly make his case in Kiev, but this also represents a golden opportunity for Salah to stamp his mark.

Ronaldo's decline in the first half of this season was as concerning as his reawakening this year has been breathtaking.

The Portugal forward has scored 44 goals in all competitions this season, but an incredible 28 of those have come since late January.

But it is the Champions League that really brings out the best in him. Ronaldo scored in Manchester United's 2008 final win, and has played a decisive role in the three finals won by Real since 2014.

He also scored in every Champions League game this term prior to the semi-final win over Bayern Munich and the 33-year-old's figures mean he is making his case to be crowned the world's best again.

"Some players suffer under pressure, others just the opposite, and he is one of them. The more you criticise him, be careful. That's why he's the best," warned Real coach Zinedine Zidane this week.

And it has also been a record-breaking season for Salah, whose 32-goal tally was a new best in the Premier League for a 38-game campaign.

Overall, he has scored the same number of goals as Ronaldo since arriving last July, including 10 in his team's memorable run to the final.

Liverpool's hopes of winning a sixth European Cup depend to a large degree on Salah, and team-mate Dejan Lovren is bullish about his chances should the forward play a starring role in the final.

"We will help him achieve this dream," the Croatia defender said.

Reds legend Ian Rush also feels Salah can still break his 47-goal club record with one game left, and that would seal the deal for football's top individual accolade.

"If he beats my record, I would actually bow down to him. To score four goals in a final would be incredible... If Liverpool win the Champions League, he deserves the best player award," the Welshman said.

Ronaldo has, however, dismissed any comparisons between himself and Salah, telling BT Sport: ''He (Salah) plays with the left (foot), I play with the right, I'm tall, he's a little bit shorter. We are completely different... (on) Saturday, let's see."

But if there is one thing both players can agree on, it is that they only have eyes on the prize.

Ronaldo is hoping to realise his "unbelievable dream" of becoming the Champions League's most successful player with a landmark fifth European Cup, while Salah can write his name into Liverpool's history books with his first major honour.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

REAL MADRID V LIVERPOOL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Ronaldo, Salah eye Ballon D'or'. Print Edition | Subscribe