Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals, the second a stunning overhead kick, as Real Madrid beat Juventus 3-0 in Turin to take charge of their Champions League quarter-final tie. Adam Bate takes a look at how Ronaldo continues to astonish…
Into his 34th year and Cristiano Ronaldo retains the ability to amaze.
He has served up so much to enjoy over the past decade and beyond but nothing quite like this. His perfectly struck overhead kick past Gianluigi Buffon has all but decided Real Madrid’s Champions League quarter-final tie against Juventus with the second leg still to play. It was so good even the opposition fans applauded it.
Ronaldo is in the goalscoring form of his life. He has found the net 23 times in his last 12 appearances. Reverse those numbers and it would be a tally most players would be pleased with, but Ronaldo is not most players. In a huge game packed with talent, icons young and old, he was the difference yet again. He opened the scoring inside three minutes.
The movement to elude the Juventus defence was not huge but it was enough to do for Giorgio Chiellini and his pals. Just a pivot here and an outstretched leg there. Having spent his early career impressing the world by becoming one of the game’s greats on the ball, Ronaldo has succeeded in reinventing himself by becoming the very best off the ball instead.
While some might have wondered what the third act of his career would bring, Ronaldo went and did something about it. He has become football’s poacher supreme and much more, elevating the art of penalty-box play. Of the Real Madrid players who completed the 90 minutes, only Keylor Navas had fewer touches. But Ronaldo’s were decisive.
The contrast with former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, who was unable to beat Navas from point-blank range at the other end, certainly did not do his old team-mate any favours. Higuain is a top-class striker. But he is not Ronaldo. The one-time wizard of dribble is now the game’s most lethal finisher, scoring in his last 10 Champions League games.
As it happens, there was still time for Ronaldo to play a simple pass into the feet of Marcelo to add an assist to his two goals and end the contest before the second leg in the Bernabeu. It was atypical of the new Ronaldo. Thirty-two of the last 37 goals he has been directly involved in have been scored by himself, with only five being assists for others.
Watch as Ronaldo scored four goals in Real Madrid's recent win over Girona
Yet again the 50-goal mark is in his sights and some credit must go to Zinedine Zidane. There was once a time when resting Ronaldo was not an option in his relentless pursuit of goals and the golden trinkets that come with them. But Zidane has helped to convince his star player that there is sense in picking his battles to protect the body for bigger challenges.
Ronaldo did not feature in the Copa del Rey this season. It cost them too as they were eliminated by Leganes. He also sat out Madrid’s midweek La Liga fixtures in February, including a 1-0 loss to Espanyol that only increased the pressure on Zidane. But the coach stuck to the plan and spared Ronaldo the trip to the Canary Islands at the weekend as well.
“There comes a moment when it is necessary for him, for the team, for everything, for him to not play,” Zidane has explained. “He is better this way.” There can be no argument with that. Ronaldo’s two goals against Juventus mean that he has now, once again, scored more goals in all competitions than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
He will hope to add to that total when Atletico Madrid are the visitors to the Bernabeu this weekend but La Liga is not his primary focus now. With Juventus surely vanquished, Ronaldo is only a semi-final away from another Champions League showpiece. A chance for him and Zidane to make it a hat-trick of victories over Europe’s best.
R Madrid vs A Madrid
April 8, 2018, 3:00pm
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It really should not be possible. Not when Barcelona have been the dominant team in Spain or while Manchester City and Bayern Munich continue to make it all look so easy in their respective leagues. But when it comes to the very biggest stages for both club and country, the last two seasons have still belonged to Ronaldo.
Can anyone really be sure that this campaign will not end the same way? Not while he is ghosting in to open the scoring against the Italian champions in Turin. Not while he is still the picture of athletic power and grace in crashing home overhead kicks with impunity.
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