Nineteen goals and ten assists in Serie A have been a satisfying bonus but Juventus had grander plans when they forked out a few quid short of £100million to sign Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. Corriere dello Sport laid them bare in time for Atletico Madrid’s arrival in Turin on Monday: ‘He wasn’t signed to win the Scudetto or to boost merchandising. Juve are waiting to end years of disappointment.’
The hurt isn’t over yet but the agony would certainly be prolonged into a 24th year were it not for Ronaldo. For the first time, Juve were demanding a return on their biggest investment and, in a twist that surprised absolutely no one, the Champions League’s greatest ever goalscorer delivered once again.
It certainly came as no surprise to Ronaldo’s family and friends who, according to Marca, had been warned by the main man to expect a hat-trick against Atletico after Diego Simeone’s men conquered their former nemesis three weeks ago. Inciting the Portuguese is never a good idea and in addition to that shackling, Ronaldo will have seen Atletico’s five consecutive clean sheets as further provocation before Juve’s biggest game of his stay so far.
The Old Lady saw no reason to downplay the significance of this test and the scale of the challenge of becoming the latest side to pull off what for them would have been an unprecedented comeback from two goals down. Ronaldo was wheeled out in front of the club’s in-house TV cameras to issue a rallying call: “The team is confident of playing a great game, and I am too. To the fans I say: think positive, let’s believe. It’s possible, but we need your help, because we’re going to do our job on the pitch and we need your support.
“Get ready to comeback!”
Bluster from anyone else, but judging from the atmosphere at Juventus Stadium, the home fans took Ronaldo’s message to heart. An arena rarely loud or full was bouncing and bulging from the off and Atletico’s first mission became to subdue the crowd.
Bjorn Kuipers gave them a helping hand. The Dutch referee neither side wanted – Atletico because of his role in their 2014 final defeat to Real, while Juve had never won under his watch – cosied up to the visitors by disallowing a fourth-minute opener for Ronaldo’s interference with Jan Oblak. A harsh call, perhaps. But with almost two gloved hands in possession of the ball, it was decided that Kuipers need not take another look via VAR.
Despite Juventus maintaining their dominance, it appeared Atletico had weathered the storm as the half-hour approached. Ronaldo had been strangely passive as concerns grew that perhaps his stifling at the Wanda Metropolitano was no fluke. He wandered over to the left early on to get the measure of Atletico right-back Santiago Arias, one of four changes from the first leg, but he soon gravitated to the centre, allowing Alex Sandro’s impressive stand-in Leonardo Spinazzola more space to thrive.
On the opposite flank, having got the nod over Paulo Dybala, Federico Bernarderschi was proving to be the biggest thorn in Atletico’s left side. But two switches, Bernarderschi drifting to the Juve left and Mario Mandzukic making a rare foray to the near post, provided the hosts with their 27th-minute breakthrough just as Atletico’s confidence was growing.
When Bernarderschi stood the ball up to the far post, where Ronaldo was looming over Juanfran, there was only going to be one winner.
"He's a living football God!"
"He's the best header of the ball I've ever seen."
The Champions League is Cristiano Ronaldo's playground 🙌 pic.twitter.com/kr1zgKu3hz
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 12, 2019
Atletico’s only chance of the evening came just before the break, when Alvaro Morata failed to keep his header from drifting over Wojciech Szczesny’s crossbar. It came from the type of cross that Atletico appeared so reluctant to deliver, with Simeone’s side apparently pessimistic of Morata’s chances of bettering Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini on his 500th appearance for Juventus.
Atletico possess equally fearsome centre-backs in Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez but Juve had rather more faith in Mandzukic and Ronaldo’s chances. Their opener came from one of 20 attempted crosses in the first half and their aggregate leveller four minutes into the second period was the result of another Bernarderschi delivery, this time from the right, which Ronaldo reached first. Oblak appeared to have clawed the ball to safety and, had it not been for goal-line technology, the Atletico goalkeeper would have got away with it.
Ronaldo’s feet were struggling to keep up with his head, with the No.7’s touch surprisingly loose on two occasions he got behind the Atletico rearguard while one free-kick was driven disappointingly into the wall. But the opportunity to complete the hat-trick he apparently promised eventually arrived thanks in no small part again to Bernarderschi, who arced his dribble around the inside left channel before being downed by Angel Correa’s shove as he ran across the box.
Cristiano Ronaldo records & stats just tonight!
1️⃣ FIRST ever player to score 125 UEFA club competition goals
2️⃣ Has been involved in 77 UCL knockout goals in 77 games
3️⃣ Scored 25 goals in 33 career appearances vs Atletico
4️⃣ Joint-most UCL hat-tricks, with Lionel Messi (8)
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 12, 2019
Oblak could not guess in which direction the spot-kick was heading but the Atletico keeper, having conceded a couple of hat-tricks to Ronaldo before, knew what was coming. Once Ronaldo had made good on his promise, there was no threat of an Atletico comeback. Diego Simeone’s men will remain one of five sides to finish as Champions League runners-up without ever winning it, despite the motivation of hosting this year’s final.
But Juve’s quest to right their own wrongs in this competition continues. With major rivals for the crown, including Tuesday’s opponents, dismissed, little in the way of domestic distraction and, crucially, Ronaldo in this mood, it could finally be their year.