Having scored a hat-trick the last time Real Madrid CF met English opposition in the UEFA Champions League, Ronaldo is understandably eager to make his mark when Arsenal FC visit the Santiago Bernabéu tonight.
The Brazilian striker's brilliant treble helped Madrid eliminate Manchester United FC from the 2002/03 competition at the quarter-final stage, the Spanish side progressing 6-5 overall in a thrilling tie having won 3-1 at home before losing the return fixture 4-3. Ronaldo's hat-trick in the second match was rewarded with a standing ovation by a sporting crowd at Old Trafford, and unsurprisingly the forward still remembers the occasion fondly.
"Of course I was really happy with that performance, not just for myself but most of all for the team as we won the tie," he said. "I hope to be able to repeat the feat against Arsenal, but the most important thing is that the team plays well and wins. I feel as though I'm the same player as back then, I know I haven't really played for three months because of injury but I'm at the same level now as I was three years ago."
Ronaldo's season has been blighted by injuries which have restricted him to just 16 Primera División appearances, although typically he has still found the net ten times and is the club's top scorer in the league. The Brazilian is yet to appear in the UEFA Champions League having missed Madrid's first two Group F games through suspension before injury struck. His confidence is undiminished by his wretched luck, however, as he explains: "I know the importance of my goals to the team, but that's what is crucial - the team. I know what I'm capable of, I feel good and goals will come. I'm constantly pushing myself to excel and get better, and I criticise myself every day so that I might improve."
Henry in opposition
Tonight's game will bring together two of the world's leading strikers as Thierry Henry spearheads Arsenal's challenge. Ronaldo is full of admiration for the French forward although he rejects the notion that the two will be in direct competition over the course of the tie: "Henry is one of the best strikers in the world and has nothing to prove to anyone. Perhaps his strongest virtue is his speed, when he has the ball at his feet he is very difficult to stop so we must be wary of him. But I don't have anything to prove either; I'm 29 years old, I've been a professional for 15 years and won virtually everything in the game."
Madrid's fortunes have improved sharply since Juan Ramón López Caro replaced Vanderlei Luxemburgo at the start of December, with the subsequent ten league games yielding seven victories - including wins in each of the club's last six Primera División matches - and Ronaldo is suitably impressed with the impact the new man has made. "I'm really happy with the new coach, the team has changed a lot under him - and for the better," he said. "Results are good and we've been playing well. I'll play anywhere for this team, my scoring record this season isn't bad considering the injuries and the goals will come.
What counts is how something ends, not how it starts." Arsenal have been warned.
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