Cristiano Ronaldo vs Villarreal: the beauty of a last-minute winner
Cristiano Ronaldo scarcely needed to do anything to further endear himself to Manchester United fans, but yesterday evening’s last-minute winner against Villarreal in the Champions League might have earned the Portuguese superstar an even cosier spot in the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful.
The 36-year-old lashed the ball home on the angle in the 95th minute of last night’s group game to give United a 2-1 win, get Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out of a potentially sticky situation and remind us all that there are few things better in football than a last-gasp winner.
In a low scoring sport like this one, the delivery of such a precious commodity as a goal in the dying seconds of a match, let alone one that changes the outcome of the game, inevitably generates a euphoric response. Unless it is your team that has conceded the crucial goal, of course. In which case the sense of despair is of approximately equal measure to the euphoria of the opposition.
In a sport like basketball, last-minute winners and even last-second winners are relatively commonplace. As a result, some of the magic is lost along the way. It is no wonder that many people who know how to bet on basketball favour placing a wager on the outcome of a match at the outset and sticking with that rather than trying to follow the ebb and flow. With teams trading scores back and forth throughout the game, the expectation of scoring each time you are in possession and the likelihood of many games being settled by the very final play, the beauty of a last-minute winner doesn’t quite translate.
It is the scarcity and difficulty of scoring a last-minute winner in a football match that sets it apart from basketball and other sports. Possession of the ball in the closing seconds of a football match doesn’t necessarily mean that you will create a goalscoring opportunity, much less that you will actually be able to score.
You can watch Ronaldo’s goal against Villarreal and ponder all the things that could have gone differently in the build-up that would have resulted in a different outcome. A sloppy pass by Villarreal in United’s half gifted possession to United. Edinson Cavani very nearly lost possession shortly afterwards, but managed to regain possession after being tackled. Five accurate passes had to follow, including a cross into the penalty area, a cushioned header from Ronaldo and a layoff from Jesse Lingard. Things could have gone differently at any of these junctures, but everything came together for United to score the winning goal.
By contrast, in basketball a team in possession with a few seconds on the clock will back themselves to be able to add a further two or three points to their tally.
As a result, a 2-1 victory, with all the release coming in the closing moments, means more than a 53-51 triumph secured just as late. And anyone who needed a reminder of that need only have looked to Old Trafford yesterday evening to see Ronaldo’s reaction, given all that he has achieved in the game. To see Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction – a man who is no strange to last-minute winners. And, of course, to see the reaction of the delirium among the fans in the stadium.