Monday 25 March 2019

Imperious Ronaldo hat-trick seals Juve's incredible escape

Juventus 3 Atletico Madrid 0 (Juventus win 3-2 on aggregate)

Goal-den boy: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot to complete his hat-trick for Juventus against Atletico Madrid. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty
Goal-den boy: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot to complete his hat-trick for Juventus against Atletico Madrid. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty

Jonathan Liew

In many ways, the 52nd hat-trick of Cristiano Ronaldo's career was very much like the others. It was brutal, irresistible, dominant and domineering, the loot of a bully.

In another sense, however, this will have meant more than most. Quite apart from the fact that it was his first for Juventus and single-handedly pillaged a Champions League last-16 tie that many felt was dead on arrival in Turin, it was as much a rejoinder as a rejoicing; a reminder that even at the age of 34, in a relatively new city and with his primacy in doubt, this is still what he does.

With four minutes of the 90 left, his right-footed penalty rattled into the corner of Jan Oblak's net to win the tie on aggregate and eliminate Diego Simeone's stunned Atletico side, who on a crisp night in the foothills of the Italian Alps discovered that even the most impenetrable of safes can be blown open if you pack enough dynamite.

For the rest of us, a reminder that primal urges die hard. While the goals have poured forth for Ronaldo in Serie A like candies from a beaten pinata - 19 so far - he had just one in his last nine Champions League games.

If the vultures weren't quite circling, then it was at least legitimate to question whether Ronaldo was still one of those players who could win a game through sheer force of will.

And then, of course, there has been the lingering rape accusation dating back a decade, through which Ronaldo, publicly at least, seems to have brazened through like a defender's shoulder barge. This will, at least, give those who prefer to ignore it plenty of reasons to do so.

Cristiano Ronaldo scores his side's third goal from the penalty spot. Photo: Antonio Calanni/AP Photo
Cristiano Ronaldo scores his side's third goal from the penalty spot. Photo: Antonio Calanni/AP Photo

But to lay this triumph solely at the hands of Ronaldo would be to do a disservice to many.

To coach Massimiliano Allegri, for one, who pulled off a tactical coup: using the full width of the pitch, drawing Atletico out of their tight central cage, and then plundering the extra space in the channels. Juventus didn't waste their time trying to play their way through.

Instead the full-backs Leonardo Spinazzola and Joao Cancelo pushed high, Giorgio Chiellini and Leo Bonucci pumped plenty of diagonal balls to Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic, and ultimately Atletico were strafed, carpet-bombed, blitzed from the skies.

Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi won the midfield battle against Saul and Rodri, while Chiellini produced another chiselled, grizzled performance at the heart of the Juve defence.

Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa in action with Juventus' Joao Cancelo. Photo: Massimo Pinca/Reuters
Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa in action with Juventus' Joao Cancelo. Photo: Massimo Pinca/Reuters

How badly Atletico missed Diego Costa, whose brutish presence up front so successfully destabilised Juventus in the first leg, but who was suspended for this game. After being pinned back from the opening minutes, they never really managed to pick their way out.

As they tried forlornly to burgle the away goal that would have kept them alive, they looked tired, they looked brittle, perhaps even a little soft.

Not that this was immediately apparent, not even after Juventus seized the early initiative, Ronaldo pumping his arms to fire up the fans in the Curva Sud after a spell of concerted pressure.

It was fast and it was furious, but for the first 25 minutes not all that precise, Juve's attacking lather amounting to very little.

With Koke and Thomas Lemar tucking in to create almost a back six for Atletico, and even Antoine Griezmann chipping in to make a beefy tackle on the edge of his own 18-yard box, Atletico looked besieged, but secure enough: a bolted door in a raging storm.

And yet it was at the very moment when Atletico seemed to have regained their equilibrium that they violently lost it again.

Hunting

Federico Bernadeschi's cross from the left seemed more hopeful than anything else and yet, from the moment it left his foot, Ronaldo was hunting it down.

While it was the sort of goal people like to conceive as pure, alpha-male will, in a way it was really the product of decades of deadlifts, sit-ups and learned, hard-wired experience: knowing exactly when to leap, exactly how to lever his weight to keep Juanfran pinned to the ground and use him as support, exactly where to meet the ball to thud it past Oblak at his near post and send the Curva Sud into paroxysms of longing.

Shortly before half-time, Alvaro Morata had a glorious chance to level the match on the night, but put his header over from six yards. This, in many ways, encapsulated the difference between the two sides.

Certainly Ronaldo was not going to make a similar mistake on 49 minutes when he rose above Diego Godin to head home Cancelo's cross, Oblak clawing it desperately off the line, but not before it had crossed by an inch as confirmed by goalline technology.

Atletico looked traumatised and it got worse for them when Angel Correa pushed Bernadeschi, who gratefully crumpled to the turf.

Ronaldo never looked like missing, pumping home the penalty with such force it struck the camera in the net, leaving it punch-drunk and on the turf, like a pummelled boxer. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Why Irish fans shouldn't lose faith and how Joe Schmidt can turn things around for the World Cup

In association with Aldi

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport