Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 103 Champions League goals – three more than Atletico Madrid have
Cristiano Ronaldo scored another Champions League hat-trick as Real Madrid thrashed Atletico Madrid in the semi-final first leg to close in on a third final in four years.
Real were utterly dominant throughout against their city rivals at the Bernabeu and led after 10 minutes when Ronaldo headed home Casemiro’s cross.
It looked as if the hosts might fail to fully capitalise on their superiority – until Ronaldo let the ball bounce and smashed an unstoppable shot from 16 yards past Atletico keeper Jan Oblak, who had made several saves to keep his side in the tie.
And the Portugal forward ensured all the headlines would be his with a second consecutive Champions League hat-trick, having scored five goals in the quarter-final against Bayern Munich. It was his easiest goal of the night, as he controlled Lucas Vazquez’s cross in plenty of space before firing home.
Atletico only had one shot on target and will need to pull off one of the Champions League’s all-time special performances to stop double-chasing Real from ending their European dreams for the fourth straight season.
Ronaldo, the top scorer in the history of the Champions League with 103 goals, loves the big occasion. And occasions do not come much bigger.
He has now scored one more goal – 52 – in the knockout stages than he has in the group stages. He has now scored eight goals in his past three games in the competition, and is up to 13 Champions League semi-final goals.
At the age of 32, Ronaldo has reinvented himself as a striker, rather than the marauding wide player cutting in and shooting we watched for most of his career.
He was not heavily involved for large periods of the game, with only 50 touches of the ball compared with 123 for midfielder Toni Kroos. And he only had five shots – scoring with all of his efforts on target.
Ronaldo was in an offside position when Sergio Ramos’ cross came in for the first goal, but the ball never reached him, instead coming out to Casemiro, who crossed for Ronaldo to head home.
His second came when Karim Benzema held off Diego Godin, and Filipe Luis’ follow-up clearance bounced up to Ronaldo, who lashed home.
And he surely wrapped the tie up when he added a third in the 86th minute.
Can double-chasing Real make history?
No team has retained the Champions League since its rebranding in 1992, but Real – who were in the swashbuckling form we have seen for most of the season – are in a great position to do so.
Manager Zinedine Zidane, who led his side to last season’s trophy with victory over Atletico in the final in his first six months in charge, is chasing a double – and their hopes of a first La Liga title since 2012 are in their hands.
Real – who have now scored in 59 consecutive games – had 17 shots against Atletico on Tuesday, with Benzema going close on several occasions, most notably with a bicycle kick that went just wide from Ronaldo’s cross.
Raphael Varane almost scored with a header but was denied by a brilliant Oblak stop, while fellow defender Dani Carvajal, who went off injured at half-time, also forced a save from the Atletico keeper.
Such is the strength of Zidane’s squad that Wales forward Gareth Bale, out with a calf injury, was not missed at all – with replacement Isco impressing.
And now, on the back of their first clean sheet in this year’s tournament, they will surely fancy their chances against Juventus or Monaco in the Cardiff final on Saturday, 3 June.
Atletico’s Real hex continues
Atletico have spent most of their history in the shadows of Real so it is of extreme irritation to them that one of their best periods has seen them regularly thwarted by their rivals.
This is the fourth year in a row the teams have met in the latter stages of the Champions League – with Real winning the 2014 and 2016 finals, and the 2015 quarter-final.
Atletico looked a shadow of the team Diego Simeone has turned into one of the most feared in the world. They only had 38% of the ball on Tuesday and, in the first half, misplaced 21.5% of their passes.
Atletico only managed four efforts on goal, with Diego Godin’s easily saved header the only one on target.
Simeone, who led Atletico to the 2013 Spanish league title, now faces arguably the toughest test of his managerial career next week in the final European match at the Vicente Calderon before their move to a new stadium.
Man of the match – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The stats you need to know – Ronaldo levels Messi hat-trick record
Ronaldo has equalled Barcelona forward Lionel Messi’s total of seven Champions League hat-tricks.
His treble saw him become the first player to reach 50 goals in the knockout stages of the competition (52).
Ronaldo now has 13 semi-final goals in the Champions League (10 for Real Madrid, three for Manchester United) – the most by any player.
The Portugal international has also scored more Champions League goals (103) than opponents Atletico Madrid (100).
None of the previous five teams to lose a Champions League semi-final first leg by three or more goals have reached the final.
Atletico suffered their joint-worst Champions League defeat under Diego Simeone, having also lost by a three-goal margin (4-1) against Real Madrid in the 2014 final.
Real kept their first clean sheet in the competition since last year’s semi-final against Manchester City (in both legs), ending a run of 11 successive games without one.
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