Madrid - Cristiano Ronaldo has put his enormous talent on display with a hat trick in World Cup qualifying, and the reward may be the Ballon d'Or after a voting deadline extension on Wednesday improved his chances of beating out Lionel Messi for the honour.
Ronaldo produced a spectacular individual performance on Tuesday, scoring all three goals and guiding Portugal into the next year's World Cup in Brazil with a 3-2 victory in Sweden.
The Real Madrid forward has scored 66 goals in 2013, but the last three may be the boost he needs to upstage Messi after FIFA unexpectedly extended the voting period for the Ballon d'Or to Nov. 29.
FIFA said it was reopening the deadline due to the low number of responses received by last Friday's original deadline, and invited voters to switch their preference.
Ronaldo became the favourite on Wednesday to beat Messi and Bayern Munich forward Franck Ribery for the world player of the year award, which will be presented on Jan. 13.
Portuguese and Spanish sports dailies splashed Ronaldo's photo across their front pages on Wednesday, when FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressed his congratulations to Ronaldo in a tweet reading "fantastic performance."
Ronaldo has scored 13 goals in six games since Blatter said last month that he preferred Messi, an Argentine who plays for Barcelona. Ronaldo has scored 32 goals in all competitions this season.
"Every year I show what I'm about. I've scored 40 or 50 goals a season and that's not enough for everyone. I'm not obsessed with the (Ballon d'Or)," Ronaldo said Tuesday. "I did my job as I have been doing all season. I don't have to answer to anybody. I do my talking on the field."
Ronaldo, who won the award in 2008, has watched as Messi has won the award the last four years. But Messi has the edge in trophies over Ronaldo after Barcelona won the Spanish league last season. Ribery helped Bayern win a treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League titles.
Blatter's slight — when he said Ronaldo spent more time at the hairdresser and compared his on-field personality to that of a commander — has seemed to energize the player, who also equalled Pauleta as Portugal's record scorer with 47 goals.
At the Friends Arena in Sweden, Portuguese fans carried a banner reading "Commander Ronaldo" in response to Blatter's comments, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic also appeared to applaud Ronaldo's heroics.
Ronaldo's scoring run comes with Messi sidelined by injury and unable to add to his own collection of awe-inspiring goals. Messi is expected to be out until the end of December because of a hamstring injury.
The Barcelona forward said his left leg was pain-free on Wednesday as he collected his third Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals in Europe's domestic leagues last season.
Messi, who has scored 14 goals in 16 games this season, was not asked about Ronaldo's performance or his Ballon d'Or prospects during the presentation, when questions were not allowed.
Ronaldo will take the field again Saturday when Madrid plays Almeria.