Cristiano Ronaldo scored a penalty in the last minute of the game to help Real Madrid edge past Juventus in a classic Champions League match
Scoreline: Real Madrid 1-3 Juventus Mandzukic 2′ 37′ Blaise Matuidi 60′ Ronaldo 96′
A UEFA Champions League quarter-final of epic proportions. 90 minutes of spine-chilling, high octane football which culminated in the greatest footballer of this generation keeping his head and blasting an unstoppable penalty to the top corner to rain over the dreams of Massimiliano Allegri and co. in a breathless, absolutely riveting encounter that was in tune with the kind of exhilarating action we have encountered through the entirety of the round of 16 in the Champions League.
Juventus absolutely took the game to Real Madrid and hit them as early as the 2nd minute as Mandzukic headed one home to get the visiting home off to a dream start. He followed it up with an identical one half an hour later. When Blaise Matuidi tapped in to an unguarded goal from a yard out, Real Madrid truly looked set to crash out of the tournament that had become their cake.
There was plenty to talk about and there is no point in wasting time beating around the bush, so let’s get right to it.
#5 Juventus come out swinging and nearly knock Real Madrid out of conscience
Before we get to swinging praises of Ronaldo, let’s take a moment and appreciate Juventus for being absolute ballers and playing at the Bernabeu like it was their own backyard.
Introducing Mario Mandzukic paid dividends and then some as he opened the scoring and even extended their lead to push Madrid into a sense of collective bewilderment from which they looked like they couldn’t snap out of.
Juve pressed high up and squeezed Real Madrid out of possession and Marcelo and Kroos were often starved for space as they tried to create something of note in response to the Juve onslaught.
It was Juventus’ tenacity that got them the third goal too as Matuidi did not give up his chase and benefitted from Navas fumbling a straightforward ball.
#4 Real Madrid miss Karim Benzema dearly
For whatever reasons he was given a day off, Karim Benzema not being upfront greatly upset Real Madrid’s chances in the final third. Without Benzema, Ronaldo was often an isolated figure in the opposition’s half as Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco struggled to pick out Ronnie with that final ball.
Without Ronaldo having no one to feed off, he looked a tad too puzzled inside the area and with Bale and Modric conjuring up nothing of note, it looked like Real Madrid’s chances on the night rode on keeping Juve from scoring 3 goals.
For all the flak he receives, Karim Benzema is still a vital cog in the Real Madrid system and his excellent link-up play is crucial to their efficiency in the final third.
#3 Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic have a ball in midfield
Dominating a midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos should rank among the most difficult jobs in Europe but Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic put their noses to the grindstone and pegged the Madrid midfield back to their backfoot and pasted their adversaries on the wall.
Their high-press was working wonders in midfield as Juventus kept recovering the ball and the midfield trio’s ability on the ball made sure they transitioned from defence to attack in the blink of an eye.
Add Douglas Costa’s creativity and pace to the mix and you have a team that can send a team of Real Madrid’s stature to the kitchen in their own home.
If only Mehdi Benatia could keep his head in the dying embers of the game, this would be remembered for years to come as an inspiring, dominant midfield performance at the Bernabeu by a visiting team.
#2 The Gianluigi Buffon anticlimax and the missing case of Gonzalo Higuain
Gianluigi Buffon was immense on the night as he stayed on top of his game through the length of the 90 minutes. His sending off was well warranted as he did shove the referee from the back in frustration of his European dream washing off the shore like a wave but his performance on the night was weaved in vintage Buffon fabric.
He pulled out one great save after the other as he kept denying Cristiano Ronaldo and co. the one goal they could have got to tilt the odds in their favour. However, it all came undone as he lost his cool after Benatia crashed into Lucas Vazquez from behind, inside the box, in the last minute of the game and the less that’s said of it, the better.
As for Gonzalo Higuain, he did what he does best in big games… go missing. For all the industry and effectiveness Juventus brought on display in the final third, Gonzalo Higuain contributed the bare minimum and was once again nowhere near the top of his game. He has once again failed to rise to the occasion and if Jorge Sampaoli is watching, he better get Mauro Icardi’s number and give that lad a call.
Or Argentina could just brace themselves to watch Lionel Messi cry once again.
#1 You can beat Real Madrid but you can’t beat Cristiano Ronaldo
The ill-informed will call him Penaldo and poke mullock at his converting the penalty in the final minute of the game to steal the limelight. But through his performance on the night, Cristiano Ronaldo proved that even on nights where his team can’t come to their own, he will rise to the occasion and prove to be the difference. Time and time again.
He should have perhaps buried a header in the back of the net in the 85th minute but when Real Madrid rightly won the penalty in the dying embers of the game, there was only man they could turn to.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cristiano Ronaldo scored. He didn’t just get it past Wojciech Szeszny but he thumped it into the right top corner with the kind of arrogance only he has the right to showcase on the most high-profile of nights in Europe.
It was his header back into the corridor of uncertainty from a lovely dinked ball into the box from Kroos that won them the penalty.
That’s exactly why beating this Real Madrid team has to be a layered process. First, you gotta beat Real Madrid. Then you gotta beat Cristiano Ronaldo.