Ronaldo hits hat-trick as Real demolishes derby rivals


MADRID, May 3: There will come a day when he is unable to do it any longer, when the appeals to his team-mates at a pass gone astray will just be the grumblings of a footballer past his usefulness, but for the time being, Cristiano Ronaldo consistently and defiantly announces himself as the man for the big occasion.

His second goal had already killed the little hope Atletico Madrid had of rescuing this Champions League semi-final in the second leg in eight days’ time but the third, the hat-trick goal, turned it into something else altogether. This was another monument to the phenomenal goalscoring achievements of this footballer with his 103 goals in this competition and an unerring ability to be the right man in the right place at all the right times.

At 32, Ronaldo is already a reigning European champion for club and country and now, on track for the fourth Champions League title of his career. He has 47 career hat-tricks, 42 for Real and six this season although the numbers, staggering though they are, do not quite do justice to the occasion. This is a man who relentlessly puts himself at the centre of the story, year after year, game after game.

His 101st, 102nd and 103rd goals in European competition mean that he now has three more goals than the total Atletico have scored in their entire Champions League history. He had previously scored five over the two quarter-final games against Bayern Munich. Soon he will pass Jimmy Greaves’ record of 366 top-flight league goals and then it will just be a question of how high he can raise the bar for the next generation.

He was not Real Madrid’s best player, but he was the man to whom they all look as the final, critical part of the winning machine, the finisher with blood in his veins, the most inevitable goalscorer in the history of the European game. Real’s dominance of this competition is creeping ever closer with the final in Cardiff next month potentially their third European Cup in four seasons and their 12th of all time.

They crushed Atletico who never recovered from the tenth minute opener from Ronaldo. He had been in an offside position in the first phase of play and while it was a marginal call for English referee Martin Atkinson he got it right, correctly judging that Ronaldo had not challenged for the ball or prevented the defender from playing it when first it was crossed and subsequently cleared.

It was a terrible evening for Diego Simeone and his team with just one attempt on target all game and just one chance of note in the first half for Kevin Gameiro. They found themselves outgunned in midfield where Toni Kroos, Isco and Luka Modric ran the show all on their own and Antoine Griezmann never got close to exerting the kind of influence that Ronaldo had on the match.

Afterwards, Simeone, faced with the prospect of defeat to Real in this competition for the fourth straight season, tried hard to put a brave face on it ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg. “I have peace of mind, I’m calm and I will prepare for Saturday’s game,” he said. “We have to try to do something that seems impossible but we are Atletico and we can do it.”

The win burnishes once more the crown of Zinedine Zidane who is on course for his second straight Champions League title as a rookie manager and whose galaxy of stars undeniably play a kind of football that is hard for the rest to live with. “We have players who have patience,” he said, “and who can do damage at any time.”

They were superb in the opening stages of the first half, going close through Dani Carvajal and then Karim Benzema before Ronaldo scored his first. He had come in from an offside position in the first phase of play, when Stefan Savic cleared a Carvajal cross, and then stepped back onside in time send Casemiro’ awkward high-bouncing volley into the goal with a flick of the neck.

Atletico just seemed to be half-paced, and unsure quite how they were supposed to be approaching this test. When Griezmann was forced on one occasion before the break to chase an awkward ball which Carvajal reached first, the Frenchman threw his arms in the air in disgust. Jan Oblak saved from a Raphael Varane header seven minutes after the Ronaldo goal.

For all their straining, there was one chance from nowhere, when Koke played in Kevin Gameiro and the Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas raced off his line quickly and decisively to bat the ball away from the French striker’s feet. It might have been different had Gameiro been able to hold his nerve but after the break, having had to replace the injured Carvajal, Real were dominant.

There was a masterful second-half performance from Kroos and Isco, the latter, on a booking, was substituted for his own good after one too many nibbles at Koke. Ronaldo’s second came with 18 minutes left when he found enough space in the right channel and connected cleanly with a volley that gave Oblak no chance of saving.

 From there Atletico were on the rack and caught badly between pushing forward for more or protecting the deficit as it stood. They managed neither with substitute Lucas Vazquez the penultimate part of a counter attack, his cross from the byline and then Ronaldo finishing unmarked in the centre for a goal that must have felt devastating to Atletico, and perfectly normal for their city rivals.-THE TELEGRAPH