IN a do-or-die knockout match, when the home fans give the visiting striker a standing ovation for his exemplary goal in a 3-0 defeat, you know he must be a genius.
That’s what Real Madrid’s world-class Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo got on Wednesday morning in Turin, Italy, when he scored the second goal in the Champions League quarter-final first-leg match. A goal that silenced the 40,849 home fans who later stood up to show their approval with a prolonged applause.
Mind you, this is one of the proudest, loudest, most impenetrable grounds in Europe but the Juventus Stadium distinctly showed their sportsmanship to truly hail a rival striker who conquered it like no-one has done before.
Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini rightly hailed Ronaldo as the best in history for winning over the Turin faithful. He said: “What he’s done tonight will be talked about for decades and decades. I’ve never heard the fans of Turin applaud an opposing team’s player until tonight. For me he’s the best player in history.”
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane’s reaction, too, said it all.
Hand to his head, a look of disbelief on his face at what he had just seen, he turned and bellowed his approval. As a player, the Frenchman scored plenty of stunning goals himself in Turin – but what he had just witnessed from Ronaldo was special.
He said: “He’s so special. He’s a different player to everyone else and he always has this desire to do something extraordinary in the Champions League, he never rests on his laurels. His overhead kick was remarkable, yet he missed two much easier chances. That’s football.”
Ronaldo’s second goal for the Spanish champion will go down the football-history books as one of the greatest strikes – the 33-year-old Portuguese rising almost unnaturally high before acrobatically firing the ball into the corner of the net with an incredible bicycle kick.
BBC Radio 5’s Pat Nevin, who was at the game, was equally stunned. “When the ball comes across to him you think: ‘Oh, you’re not going to try an overhead kick.’ And then, bang! Oh wow! Just see it, watch it,” said the former Scotland winger.
“It is unnatural. People are talking about how Ronaldo is getting a bit older now – but there is nothing wrong with that body if he can do that sort of thing. The timing of it is extraordinary, the imagination to do it is extraordinary.”
The 3-0 first-leg win as good as sealed the Italian champion’s fate in the Champions league, But there was a sizeable number of Juventus fans who stayed behind to applaud Ronaldo. To turn around this coliseum to his side – wow. Call it genius if you like.
At the age of 33, the critics say Ronaldo no longer has great pace or much impact minute to minute in a match. But, reinvented as an orthodox striker, he is in one of the greatest goal-scoring streaks in football history – 19 goals in his last nine games for Real.
Beware: This version of Ronaldo, the far side of 30, is no longer about ripping through teams from the wing. He stays in the box and picks his moments. Big goals and big games: five in the quarter-final against Bayern Munich last year, three in the semi against Atletico, two in the final against Juventus.
This year has been no different. He rescued Real from 1-0 down against Paris Saint Germain in February, scoring twice at home and once away. But even among all of those decisive moments, against the best teams in the world, this night – the 10th straight Champions League game he has scored in – will stand out.
He has now scored 16 goals in his past 10 Champions League games – 14 goals this season and a double in last year’s final against Juventus.
It took him only two minutes and 47 seconds to open the scoring in Turin, when he poked home Isco’s low left-wing cross from six yards out. He almost had a second when he smashed a ball across goal after good work from Karim Benzema.
His magic of magical moments came in a move which he helped create himself. Giorgio Chiellini prodded a ball past his own keeper Buffon, which Ronaldo kept in play. He found Lucas Vazquez, whose shot was saved by Buffon. Unfortunately for Juventus the ball ran to Carvajal, whose cross was dramatically converted by Ronaldo.
The Portuguese, who only touched the ball 49 times in 90 minutes, had two chances for a hat-trick, first when he forced a save from Buffon from 16 metres and then when he shot over when totally unmarked 10 yards out from Vazquez’s cross.
He is not just a goalscorer though, and he set up Marcelo’s goal – as well as laying the ball off to Mateo Kovacic, who hit the post.
PRAISE FROM JUVENTUS BOSS
Even Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri gave Ronaldo a hug at the final whistle and candidly admitted it was “almost impossible” to progress.
“I don’t know if Cristiano’s goal is the best in the history of football but it’s certainly an extraordinary goal. You can only congratulate him for what he’s doing at present,” Allegri said.
Strangely, Juventus came into the game in top form – unbeaten in 25 games, winning 21 of those – and having recently gone top of Serie A above Napoli.
“There is absolutely nothing to blame the boys for. We faced an extraordinary team with probably the best player in the world,” said Allegri. “Now we raise our heads, we think about the future and the league. They are really devastating, otherwise they would not have won so much in the past few years. Now it’s almost impossible.”
Beaten Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon rightly compared Ronaldo to Diego Maradona and Pele. He praised: “Ronaldo is an extraordinary champion, together with Lionel Messi, he is the only one that punctuates his team’s most important victories, and is to be compared to Maradona and Pele.
“We were playing against incredible champions. There is great regret and it will not be possible to go forward in this event, for me it is a great regret but against certain opponents it takes a clear examination: they are objectively stronger.”
Legendary England striker Micheal Owen said: “OMG. Please, if you do one thing tonight make sure you see Ronaldo’s second goal. His first was awesome. I’ve no words to describe his second.”
TEARS IN RONALDO’S EYES
For Ronaldo, he just continues to rewrite the history books. He has now become the first player to score in 10 consecutive Champions League matches.
There were tears in his eyes when he told reporters that the reaction from the home support – a first in his career – was “amazing” and “unbelievable”. He said: “It was an unbelievable moment. I have to say thank you a lot – grazie – to all supporters of Juventus.
“What they did for me was amazing, I’m so happy. Thank you to all of them. This has never happened in my career so far.”
The loveliest praise came from former Real Madrid team-mate Alvaro Arbeloa: “Ronaldo can now leave Earth and play with Martians. He has done everything here.”
Wonder way for Ronaldo to show why football continues to be the world’s No 1 sport.