Before a ball had even been kicked in Tuesday’s critical UEFA Champions League match, Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly promised friends and family that he would score three goals and send Juventus into the quarterfinal stage of the competition.
Anything less may not have been enough. Last month, in the round of 16 first leg against Atletico Madrid, Juventus lost 2-0, surrendering the advantage to the Spanish team.
The Atleti defenders Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin each scored a goal and kept the rearguard tight enough to frustrate Juventus all night long. Even Ronaldo, who has thrived in the big games in Europe over the years, left the field with no goals after taking seven shots. The defeat in February left Juventus with it all to do in the second leg on Tuesday.
Ronaldo even attracted media scrutiny in the buildup to the game. The Independent said “Cristiano Ronaldo’s powers are in retreat.” The Italy national soccer team coach Roberto Mancini said he “isn’t doing in the Champions League what he’s done in the past.” And Business Insider even put together five charts that showed how truly awful the 34-year-old had been this season when compared with his incredible performance level in previous years.
But Ronaldo shrugged off the criticism and produced his best game of the season. He scored either side of the half and provided a constant attacking threat against a seemingly wilting Atletico team.
This was Ronaldo at his best. He played with pace and with attitude, and he even leaped high into the air to power an incredible header into the net for the first score of the night in the 27th minute of the knockout match.
Watch the goal right here:
Or here if you are in a different region:
He grabbed his second shortly after half-time in the 49th minute, when another header was ruled to have gone over the line. The Juventus fans went apoplectic in the crowd as Ronaldo — the team’s $129.3 million signing from last summer and the man the club got specifically to win games just like this — single-handedly brought the team back from the brink of defeat and was just one goal away from securing a stunning victory.
That third and final goal arrived in the 86th minute, when Juventus was awarded a late penalty. And there was only one man who would take the kick.
Ronaldo stepped up to the spot and kept his cool, as he has frequently done over the years, when he shot the winning goal into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal, 3-0 — job done. He even made it look easy.
Watch the penalty right here:
Or here if you’re in a different region:
After the game, Ronaldo was reportedly told on Sky Italia that Juventus had never, in its entire history, secured a comeback win like it had on Tuesday.
“Maybe that’s why they signed me,” was his reply, according to the Corriere dello Sport, The Times, and ESPN journalist Gabriele Marcotti.