Ronaldo and Klose dominate countries' top-scorer charts

Cristiano Ronaldo erased and Miroslav Klose equalled the records of two of the great goal-scoring legends this weekend. On the one hand, that is fair and reasonable, because it is an immutable law of sport - of life - that records are there to be broken. On the other, there is a tinge of sadness, an impulse to preserve the heroes of yesteryear in nostalgia.

And so when Ronaldo, 28, struck his hat-trick in the 4-2 win over hosts Northern Ireland on Friday night, it came with mixed feelings. His two headers, and then a trademark free kick driven through the smallest of gaps in the defensive wall, won a World Cup qualifier that Portugal were in danger of losing.

Typical of Ronaldo, he brooded for an hour and then, Heaven knows how such a big man does it, he freed himself from his opponents who knew that he was the best talent, and therefore the biggest danger on the field.

His first header, from eight metres, equalled the tally of 41 goals set in 1973 by Eusebio. A near-identical header some moments later meant that no Portuguese national has ever scored as often as Ronaldo. His free kick was hit flat and straight through a hole created by two colleagues who had infiltrated the Irish wall, and ducked at the precise time the ball was struck. Simple goals, for a magician.

Goals Nos. 41, 42 and 43 are, very likely, just milestones along Ronaldo's unfinished career path. Goals that leave no argument in the statistical sense about Portugal's record accumulator.

Where we might still split hairs is the fact that Eusebio the "Black Pearl" had considerably fewer games to build up his record. His prime was at the 1966 World Cup in England, and his national team span was 64 games for those 41 goals. Ronaldo has played 106 times for Portugal.

And, if you are wondering, Luis Figo represented the country 127 times, and netted 32 goals. To put some flesh on those numbers, Eusebio stood 1.75 metres, Figo 1.81 and Ronaldo 1.86.

So they get taller as the years roll by, and the game they play gets faster and often more cynical about how to stop the greats from scoring. That said, Eusebio was a most mercurial team player. He was the heart and soul of Portugal even though his birthplace was Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, the capital city of the Republic of Mozambique. It became independent from Portuguese rule shortly after Eusebio finished playing). History lesson over, except to concede that history is essential to the appreciation of football.

There will be many people of a certain age who swear that Gerd Muller was, and will always be, incomparable as a striker. "Kleines dickes Mül;ller" (Short, fat, Muller), his first coach at Bayern Munich called him.

"Der Bomber" became a kinder nickname. He was indeed squat, and he used his low centre of gravity to swivel and score goals at an uncanny rate. On Friday, when Klose scored for Germany in the 3-0 win over Austria, he equalled the 68 career record set by Muller in 1974.

It was typical Klose. He lurked, he waited, he pounced, he scored. He is tall (1.84m) and thin where Muller was not, but they share the predator's guile. The first metre of movement is in the brain, the instinct to know where space and opportunity can be found.

Joachim Loew, Germany's coach, has every intention of taking Klose to the next World Cup, even though Klose will have turned 36 by then. And even though, as some people keep on reminding him, Klose was born not in Germany, but in Silesia, the coal-mining region of what was then communist Poland.

He was eight when the family settled in Germany, and everything he learnt about playing the game came from his father, a winger, and then from German kindergarten. "Miro" settles the debate about himself by asking people to call him European - and not German or Polish.

What seems inevitable is that he will score again - possibly as soon as Tuesday night in the Faroe Islands where Germany expect to confirm their ticket to the 2014 World Cup. And when that goal comes, just as in the case of Ronaldo and Eusebio, critics will use arithmetic and the different eras to try to preserve Muller's figures over and above Klose's. Der Bomber scored his 68 goals in a remarkable 62 games. Klose has taken 129 appearances to equal the tally.

Whether any of it matters is open to discussion. Football is a different game today than when Muller loitered with intent in the penalty box and bided his time until the defenders left him that precious second or two. He then struck, again and again, with unerring accuracy.

A thief among strikers, he scored 10 times in six games at the 1970 World Cup in Brazil, and four goals in seven matches on home soil in the 1974 tournament. No one can take away from Muller his uncanny knack that enabled him to put the ball in the net virtually every time he played during 18 seasons. "A voice inside my head told me, Gerd go this way, or Gerd go that way," he once said. It is as near as we will get to an explanation. One name to finish: Ronaldinho.

The Brazilian's days as a national team player are gone, are they not? Actually, Mr Smiley is only 33 and, though the coach Phil Scolari appeared to try and discard him months ago, Ronaldinho's form has returned.

He rescued Atletico Mineiro last Tuesday with two free kicks when all seemed lost against Fluminense. First came a conjuror's trick, making the ball rise over the wall, and drop to kiss the bar to the goalkeeper's right.

Second was perfect accuracy into the top corner to the left of the goalie. Just a thought: Might Scolari select Ronnie for that alone? A game during the World Cup is at stalemate, the coach summons Ronnie off the bench and, like an NFL kicker, he changes the outcome at a stroke.

Fantasy? Maybe, but not impossible.

stsports@sph.com.sg

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.