Cristiano Ronaldo was named winner of the Ballon d’Or the fourth time, capping a terrific year for the Real Madrid star. (AFP)
Real Madrid are currently riding a club record 35-game unbeaten run, but back in April it was old foes Barcelona who seemed unbeatable as they carried a 39-game streak without defeat into El Clasico.
Yet, despite going first a goal and then a man down, Ronaldo’s late winner silenced the Camp Nou and signalled a swing in the balance of power throughout 2016 towards Madrid.
Real’s last defeat came just four days after victory at the Camp Nou in a shock 2-0 reverse to Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
However, amidst a typically fervent atmosphere at the Santiago Bernabeu on a big European night, Ronaldo inspired a Real fightback with a hat-trick to win 3-0 and progress to the semi-finals.
Winning penalty in Milan
Ronaldo didn’t manage to score in regulation time in the Champions League final, but still proved decisive as Real broke Atletico Madrid hearts for the second time in three years.
Ronaldo scored the winning penalty as Real won an 11th European Cup 5-3 in a shootout after the sides couldn’t be separated in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes in Milan.
Halts early Portugal exit
Ronaldo described winning Euro 2016 with Portugal — their first ever major tournament win — as the “happiest moment of his life”.
However, their unpredictable run to glory in France could have been so different had Ronaldo not rescued them from an embarrassing early exit at the group stages.
After draws against Iceland and Austria, three times Portugal trailed Hungary in their final group game only to be bailed out.
Ronaldo teed up Nani for the first equaliser before scoring two of his three goals in the tournament to ensure Portugal sneaked through as one of the best third-placed sides.
Whilst Ronaldo’s collective achievement in winning both the Champions League and Euro 2016 was the reason he won the award, the 31-year-old also hushed the critics who suggested he was past his best at the start of this season with a hat-trick to again vanquish Atletico last month.
In the last ever La Liga clash between Madrid’s two great rivals at the Vicente Calderon, Ronaldo became the top scorer of all time in Madrid derbies to almost certainly banish Atletico from the title race.