The Age of Ron­aldo set for a long reign

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

CARDIFF: Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, just seems to get bet­ter and bet­ter.

On Satur­day he made the dif­fer­ence yet again with two goals to help Real Madrid se­cure a third Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle in four years as they crushed Ju­ven­tus 4-1 in a riv­et­ing fi­nal.

For all the talk of tac­tics, the threat posed by the Ital­ian cham­pi­ons, the fo­cus on Ron­aldo’s Welsh team­mate Gareth Bale, the ro­man­tic no­tion of Juve goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon fi­nally claim­ing a Cham­pi­ons League win­ner’s medal and ev­ery­thing else that had oc­cu­pied minds and col­umn inches, Ron­aldo yet again found a way to hog the head­lines.

Of course, Real’s win was about much more than the con­tri­bu­tion of their Por­tu­gal for­ward.

When Ju­ven­tus en­joyed spells of pres­sure in the first half, they largely held firm. After Mario Mandzu­kic scored an in­cred­i­ble first-half equaliser with an au­da­cious over­head kick, Real didn’t let the Ital­ians get away from them.

And what­ever French coach Zine­dine Zi­dane told his Real play­ers at half-time suc­ceeded in pro­duc­ing a dis­play of dom­i­nance that, once Brazil­ian Casemiro had put them 2-1 up on the hour, never looked in dan­ger of end­ing in any­thing other than cel­e­bra­tions.

But it was im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore Ron­aldo, as his team­mate Toni Kroos was quick to point out.

“You need a guy to score the goals and he did it again,” said the Ger­many in­ter­na­tional.

Strikes in each half from Ron­aldo made him the first player to score in three fi­nals in the Cham­pi­ons League era, adding to his goals in the 2008 and 2014 show­pieces for Manch­ester United and Real, re­spec­tively.

His sec­ond on Satur­day, to make it 3-1 in the 64th minute, put the game be­yond Juve and made him top scorer in this sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League with 12 goals – one more than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who he is con­stantly com­pared to.

It also hap­pened to be Ron­aldo’s 600th ca­reer goal for club and coun­try.

The former Sport­ing and United winger­turned-striker turned 32 in Fe­bru­ary but far from fad­ing he is as dan­ger­ous as ever – per­haps even more ef­fec­tive than in his younger days.

In the past 12 months Ron­aldo has won two Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles, the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship with Por­tu­gal, claimed a Span­ish league ti­tle and the World Club Cup and on an in­di­vid­ual level been awarded the Bal­lon d’Or and Fifa’s ‘Best’ award.

“Again, I’ve had an amaz­ing sea­son. Me and my team­mates have done the dou­ble. The num­bers don’t lie. I’m very happy – an amaz­ing sea­son, we’ve won tro­phies. This is one of the best mo­ments of my ca­reer – I have the chance to say this ev­ery year,” he said. “The squad has been great and it’s been good for me in­di­vid­u­ally, too. I pre­pared my­self well for the fi­nal part of the sea­son and I scored some im­por­tant goals.” Ron­aldo was handed the Man of the Match award by his former man­ager Alex Fer­gu­son, a re­minder of his early years as a dev­as­tat­ingly quick winger at Manch­ester United, with whom he won his first Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal. Most of the tricks are now only on show in the warmups, as he con­cen­trates his ef­forts on that in­stinct and killer touch that all truly great strik­ers pos­sess, which has helped him plun­der at least 40 goals in each of the last seven sea­sons. His first goal at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium to put Real ahead in the 20th minute against Juve il­lus­trated that per­fectly as he had the wit to lay the ball off to Dani Car­va­jal on his right and then the smart­ness to hold, wait for the cut-back pass and then use his technique to bury the ball in the bot­tom cor­ner. For his sec­ond, Ron­aldo read and an­tic­i­pated Luka Mo­dric’s burst to the by­line, timed his run per­fectly and met the Croa­t­ian’s low cross with a deft touch that lifted the ball over the help­less Buf­fon. Class, qual­ity and the killer touch – all when it mat­ters most. Would any­one bet against him do­ing it all again next year? – Reuters

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