This is one of the proudest, loudest, most impenetrable grounds in Europe but tonight the Juventus Stadium stood to applaud the man who conquered it like no-one has done before, Cristiano Ronaldo put Real Madrid 1-0 up early on but his second goal, half-way through the second half and with his team under pressure, was stunning even by the standards of his own greatness.
Facing away from goal, just inside the box, his overhead kick plucked Dani Carvajal’s cross from high out of the rainy sky and struck it like a tennis smash into the corner of Gianluigi Buffon’s net.
Once 40,000 Juventus fans had assimilated what happened, the audacity, difficulty, and the fact their team was out of the Champions League, they got off their feet to clap. This is not what they filed in here for tonight, but how often do you see the second-greatest player of the modern era do something that only he in the world could do? This was Ronaldo’s 23rd goal in his last 12 games – astonishing enough in itself – but even among the hundreds he has scored in his unique career, this is one of the few that will be remembered the best.
This crowd are not used to that type of thing, nor are they used to this type of result. Juventus had only ever lost one European game here before tonight, to Bayern Munich’s treble winners in 2013. But by losing this game 3-0 – Ronaldo obviously set up the third – they conceded more goals than they did in all six home Champions League games last season. Having lost nobly in the 2015 and 2017 finals, Juventus finished the evening facing the fact that the quarter-finals will be the end of their European journey this season.
What was so frustrating for Juventus was that even before Ronaldo’s magical moment, they were underperforming. This team is meant to be all about efficiency, details, and doing just enough to get over the line. Tottenham outplayed them for almost three hours, remember, but Juventus scored twice in three minutes to go through. But here they carelessly forgot everything that made them so good.
It was only the third minute of the whole tie when Real Madrid sensed that uncharacteristic sloppiness, and made the most of it. Zinedine Zidane had one decision to make here, the third man in the front-line with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. He did what he did in Cardiff, picking Isco over Gareth Bale, but even Zidane could not have hoped for vindication this thorough, or this quick.
Isco can play wherever he wants in this team and he floated out to the left wing, receiving a pass from Marcelo. Played onside by Kwadwo Asamoah, not closed down by Mattia De Sciglio, he caught his hosts by surprise. So he drove a cross to the near post, where Ronaldo turned it past Gianluigi Buffon.
Juventus’ plans had been shredded and they had to raise their game. But that pressure, that onus, seemed to mess with their heads. They spent the rest of the first half playing with so much haste that they made mistakes you would never expect.
Every time they got near the edge of the Madrid box, otherwise accomplished players – Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa – would miscue and the attack would break down. Chiellini, usually the king of both boxes, misjudged a free header from a corner and Dybala, at the end of the first half, was booked for a ludicrous dive.
When Juventus came closest to scoring, there were Real Madrid players ready to throw themselves in their way. Keylor Navas produced a close-range reflex save reminiscent of the best of Iker Casillas. Sergio Ramos blocked one Dybala shot, header another away from the wall and then, early in the second half, was flattened by Navas punching out a cross. Chiellini himself would have been proud of all this reckless physical bravery to keep the ball out.
When Dybala carelessly kicked Carvajal in the stomach and was sent off that was the end of the tie, but there was still time for Ronaldo to slide in Marcelo to bundle in the confirming third. From there all that was left was for Ronaldo to score a hat-trick and he missed from eight yards in added time. He looked briefly upset, but he had already won the tie, and burnished his place in history.