Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero as his three goals decided last night’s Champions League semi final first leg between Real Madrid and their city rivals Atletico. At 3-0, he may well have decided the tie.
Ahead of this game it wasn’t at all clear that it would be so cut and dry. Sure, Real are 10 points clear of Atleti in the league (with a game in hand), but one wouldn’t have thought that they were that far ahead in terms of performance. Real have won just one of the last eight Madrid derbies in the league to Atleti’s four victories but then this is the Champions League.
This is the fourth year in a row that the sides have met in Europe’s elite club competition and Real have dominated these encounters, knocking their compatriots out every time, after this game it seems as though it’s going to happen again.
Anyway, to the game. Real dominated proceedings from the off. Atleti, normally so hardworking, dogged and canny looked off the pace and were chasing shadows as Real knocked the ball around, forced a few corners and hitting Los Rojiblancos on the break any time they had the temerity to mount an attack of their own.
It wasn’t a surprise when the goal came then, nor was it a surprise that it was Ronaldo who broke the deadlock. Sergio Ramos found space on the right and arched his cross in to the box, Diego Godín managed to head clear but only as far as Casemiro who put it straight back in to the danger area, Ronaldo was waiting and he powered his header past Jan Oblak.
Real continued to control the game after the goal, barring the odd Atleti foray forward it seemed only a matter of time before they doubled their lead. It almost arrived in spectacular fashion when, in the 29th minute, Ronaldo managed to work some space near the touchline and float a cross to the centre of the box, Benzema, who had obviously seen Emre Can during the week, launched himself in to the air and connected sweetly with a bicycle kick, sending his shot narrowly off target.
Real saw out the rest of the half with relative ease and if Atleti were to have any chance of rescuing the game at that point they seriously needed to up their game.
At first, perhaps with Diego Simeone’s words still ringing in their ears, they seemed to be at the races again but soon Real were back in charge, limiting the away side to long range efforts and a number of half chances. Simeone needed to change things and Torres and Gaitan were brought on to try and make something happen.
Unfortunately for him, it made no difference. Real continued to press for a second and soon had it. Marcelo found Benzema at the edge of the D, he in turn shuffled it along to Ronaldo who rode through Filipe Luis’ challenge before smashing the ball in to the roof of the net. It was a sublime finish and no more than the home team deserved.
From then on things got a bit desperate for Atletico, they needed to score to keep the tie alive but in reality, shipping a third seemed much more likely. Simeone’s side put themselves about a bit, picking up a couple of cards along the way but it was all done in panic, this wasn’t a team putting it up to a rival this was a team desperately trying to grab a hold of anything that would keep them in the game.
With that in mind gaps were obviously starting to appear and Real are a team who will find those chinks in the armour and exploit them ruthlessly. Their goal that finished it started and ended with Ronaldo who fed Lucas Vazquez down the right channel, who cut the ball back from the byline and Ronaldo was there to meet it on the penalty spot, he had time to take a touch and pick his spot, making no mistake as he stuck away his third of the evening.
Madrid could easily have had a fourth as Modric and an unlucky deflection off Godin spun narrowly wide in the closing stages but at three nil, this game and the tie itself were as good as over.
Could this Madrid side be the first team to retain the Champions League crown? With a player like Ronaldo in their ranks you can never discount it. His hat trick against Atletico was his 42nd for Madrid, helping him to 399 club goals and a frankly ridiculous 103 in the Champions League. With either the airtight Juventus or the free scoring Monaco to come in the final they will need him to keep coming up with the goods if they are to do it.
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