Long gone are the days when Juventus used to be Real Madrid’s nemesis in Europe. Zinedine Zidane’s Galacticos delivered another painful hammering to Massimiliano Allegri’s Bianconeri last night, one year after last season’s Champions League Final in Cardiff. The 3-0 by which Real Madrid virtually put one foot and a half in the semifinal matured at the end of a gigantic performance by Cristiano Ronaldo, touched by grace in occasion of his second goal.
It’s sad to see the top performing Italian club brutally trampled at home, and forced to bid once again an early farewell to the main European stage. But last night’s match provided the chance for yet another reality check: Juventus, and Italian clubs in general, are currently one step below the top European powerhouses. Or maybe they simply miss a Cristiano Ronaldo.
Some god of football must have incarnated itself into Real’s Number 7 for a minute, allowing him to deliver an overhead kick better than the one displayed on the Panini sticker packets so familiar to Italian football lovers. The sportsmanlike supporters at the Allianz Stadium could not but stand up and clap.
Under a pouring rain, CR7 needed only two minutes to steer the match in the direction he wanted. Marcelo worked the ball from the left flank and served Isco, whose cross found the five-time Golden Ball winner’s predator-like conversion. It was the 13th goal in 9 Champions League appearances for him this season. Monstrous.
Juventus reacted fast indeed, with Sami Kehdira penetrating in the Blancos area, but captain Sergio Ramos managed to block him with a slide.
In the 22nd minute, Keylor Navas showed with his feline reflexes that he is not defending Real’s goal by chance, saving on a close-range tap in by Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentinian had been served from the left by Alex Sandro, whom Massimiliano Allegri surprisingly deployed in place of Blaise Matuidi.
The full first half was placed at a high pace, with Juventus showing some will to fight, even if it was curious to see left back Mattia De Sciglio creating the most dangerous scoring chance. His bend shot ended not far past Navas’ right post, after Dybala narrowly failed to correct it.
However, Real Madrid often gave the impression of playing a cat and mouse game: In the 35th minute, Tony Kroos received a flank play by Karim Benzema, and made Gianluigi Buffon’s crossbar rattle, with a terrific right foot shot from outside the box.
But the Bianconeri were alive. Three minutes later, Paulo Dybala shot a corner kick, Giorgio Chiellini hit the ball clumsily, with the effect of making it remain in the danger zone. Defender Raphaël Varane was faster than Rodrigo Bentancur, and cleared it.
A vertiginous first half ended with the home side protesting twice within two minutes, for two penalty kicks disallowed by Turkish referee Cakir Cuneyt. Chiellini was literally furious at the ref overlooking a handball by Varane. One minute later, Paulo Dybala theatrically dove in the box among three defenders: Cakir waved a yellow card at him for simulation.
Juve kept charging head down in the second half, but they lacked concreteness. On the other hand, Ronaldo scared them with a shot that swished past Buffon’s goal, a sinister prelude of what was going to happen only a few minutes later.
Minute 64: Buffon and Chiellini didn’t understand each other: “It’s mine?,” “No, it’s yours,” and the defender ended up anticipating his teammate with a clearance, only to deliver a golden ball to the Spaniards. A first shot was defected by Juventus’ keeper, but then the ball ended up on the foot of His Majesty from Madeira, who decided to conclude the action with a spectacular overhead kick. 14 goals in 9 games for Cristiano Ronaldo, and what a goal this one…
Two minutes later, Dybala committed suicide knocking down Dani Carvajal with a clumsy karate kick, which earned him a second yellow and an early shower. And that nothing was going right for Allegri’s band last night, it became clear when Marcelo made it three for the visitors: Buffon managed to deflect Real’s left back shot, but the ball still bounced past him, and the Brazilian could easily tap it in. At least, we got the chance to see some more beautiful football, with a one-touch action, and a final pass by CR7 – again! – for Marcelo.
Real had no intention to hit the brakes despite the triple lead. In the 86th minute, Juventus’ crossbar was shaken again: This time, on a shot by Lucas Vasquez, who had substituted Benzema early in the second half. And it took a Buffon like the one from the good old days, to deny Ronaldo the joy of a hat trick.
The Bianconeri are still running for the Scudetto and Coppa Italia, but the most craved of their goals, that Champions League title they have been chasing since 1996, is destined to remain – at least for one more year – a forbidden dream.
April 3, 2018 – Champions League 2017-18 Quarter Finals
JUVENTUS-REAL MADRID 0-3
SCORERS: 3’ Ronaldo, 64′ Ronaldo, 72’ Marcelo
|JUVENTUS (4-4-1-1): Buffon; De Sciglio, Barzagli, Chiellini, Asamoah (69’ Mandzukic); Douglas Costa (69’ Matuidi), Khedira (75’ Cuadrado), Bentancur, Alex Sandro; Dybala; Higuain (Szczesny, Rugani, Lichtsteiner, Marchisio) Coach: Allegri|
|REAL MADRID (4-3-1-2): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric (82′ Kovacic); Isco (75’ Asensio); Benzema (69’ Lucas Vazquez), Cristiano Ronaldo (Casilla, Vallejo, Theo Hernandez, Bale) Coach: Zidane|
REFEREE: Cakir (Turkey)
NOTES: Attendance: 40849; Yellow Cards: Bentancur, Dybala (J), Sergio Ramos, Kovacic (R); Red Card: Dybala (J); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 2′