Having spent four years in the shadow of his great rival Lionel Messi, Ronaldo broke down in tears after being elected the Ballon d'Or winner for 2013 on Monday — a rare display of emotion that showed just how important it was for the Portugal winger to lay his hands on the trophy again.
Ronaldo first won football's biggest individual prize five years ago, but then watched as Messi found a way of upstaging him each year despite consistently scoring at an unprecedented rate for Real Madrid.
"There are no words to describe this moment," said Ronaldo, crying openly while his 3-year-old son, also named Cristiano, stood at his feet. The little boy had just been hoisted by Brazil great Pele to touch the golden trophy as dad gathered himself to speak.
"People who know me know how many people helped me," Ronaldo said in Portuguese. "If I have forgotten anyone, I do apologize because I am deeply moved."
Earlier Monday, Ronaldo was cautiously diplomatic at a news conference, facing media who mostly predicted his prolific 69-goal tally in 2013 would end Messi's four-year victory run.
Ronaldo's stunning hat trick against Sweden in a decisive World Cup playoff in November also appeared to stand out as the year's defining individual performance.
"If I win, fine. If I don't, life goes on," he said, acknowledging that Messi's sustained excellence for Madrid nemesis Barcelona had pushed him to improve.
Ronaldo also said he has made peace with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whose ill-judged comments in October stating a preference for Messi seemed to confirm a long-held belief in Portugal and Madrid that their player was destined to lose.
"We talked over the telephone and everything was cleared," Ronaldo said before the ceremony. "This is no longer an issue, neither for us nor for football."
In a tight race, Ronaldo received 1,365 points, Messi had 1,205 and Franck Ribery, the France and Bayern Munich winger, got 1,127. Voting was done by national team captains and coaches, plus selected journalists in each FIFA member country.
Canada coach Benito Floro cast his first-place vote for Ronaldo, while captain Atiba Hutchinson had Messi first and Ronaldo second.
On hearing his name called — finally delivered by Pele after a dramatic pause and smile — Ronaldo closed his eyes, grinned and dipped his head, then turned to kissed his girlfriend, model Irina Shayk, before walking to the stage.
Pele greeted Ronaldo with a hug minutes after he also cried on stage when collecting an honorary Ballon d'Or for his own outstanding career.
Ronaldo's victory was fitting on an evening when FIFA paid tribute to another great Portugal forward, Eusebio, who died last week.
FIFA also stressed that Ronaldo's win owed nothing to an extension of the initial balloting deadline beyond the World Cup playoff. His display in Stockholm was so impressive it seemed certain to sway voters when Messi was sidelined by his third injury of the year.
Still, FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said Monday the standings were unchanged by the voting rules adjustment.
Though Ribery lost, Bayern got one victory as Jupp Heynckes won the coaching award for leading the team to a Champions League, Bundesliga and national cup treble last season before he retired. Heynckes defeated Juergen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund and Alex Ferguson, who retired after winning another Premier League title for Manchester United.
European champion Germany swept the women's awards.
Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer was player of the year ahead of United States forward Abby Wambach, last year's winner, and Marta of Brazil. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and coach John Herdman both cast their first-place votes for Angerer.
Sylvia Neid won the women's coaching award, beating Sweden's Pia Sundhage and Ralf Kellermann, who led Wolfsburg to the Champions League title.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic won a fans' online vote to get the Puskas Award for best goal, a long-range bicycle kick for Sweden against England in a November 2012 friendly.
Blatter gave his presidential award to Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president for 12 years until reaching his term limit last September. The Afghanistan football federation got the fair play award.
Pele received an honorary Ballon d'Or trophy, which he could never get during his career when the original prize created by France Football magazine in 1956 was restricted to European players.
"I promised my family I would not cry but I am emotional," said Pele, the only player to win the World Cup three times.