After a turbulent week that led to exit rumors and questions whether he could still cut it on the biggest stage, Cristiano Ronaldo answered his critics by scoring a hat trick in the first 33 minutes against Cagliari on Sunday.
The sharks began to circle after Juventus dropped out of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on away goals to FC Porto on Tuesday with the winning goal in extra time coming after Ronaldo failed to keep his place in the wall facing the free kick. It’s the third straight season in which the Italian champions have failed to crack the semifinals with the $117 million star they had signed to put them over the top.
But Ronaldo made quick work of relegation candidate Cagliari with a “perfect hat trick,” scoring with his left and right foot as well as his head in a 3–1 win. The final goal, a thunderous effort with his left foot, extends his lead to four atop the Serie A goalscoring charts with 23 goals in 23 league appearances.
Despite being recorded in just 33 minutes, it’s not the fastest hat trick of Ronaldo’s storied career; that record belongs to his September 2015 performance against Espanyol while at Real Madrid when he scored three goals in the first 20 minutes (and ended the game with five total).
Reports across Europe this week have linked the Portuguese superstar with a return to Real Madrid and Manchester United in a summer when the biggest names in the sport could be on the move with Lionel Messi out of contract. When the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals begin in April, it will be the first time since 2005 in which neither Ronaldo nor Messi will be on the pitch.