Cristiano Ronaldo in Champions League

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Last week, things didn’t exactly go to plan for Real Madrid in Germany. Zinedine Zidane’s squad lacked the passion and skill that saw them defeat Barcelona in El Clásico as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Wolfsburg. Even with the unbelievable star power that Madrid boasts on their roster, it was going to be a very difficult hill to climb on Tuesday if they hoped to make it to the Champions League semifinals for the sixth consecutive year. For Wolfsburg, a 0-0, or even a 1-1 draw would be good enough to send them through to an unexpected semifinal appearance because of Madrid’s lack of away goals. Could Madrid fight back from this dire position, or would it be Wolfsburg claiming the glory in the Spanish capital?

The comeback would start after just a quarter of an hour at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. A pacy run from Dani Carvajal from the defense eventually made its way to the edge of the penalty area. After the defender’s initial cross was blocked, the ball bounced right back to him and he was able to send in another low cross to the back post. The ball snuck through the Wolfsburg backline and who else but Cristiano Ronaldo was there to tap into the empty net. 1-0 Madrid.

That tap-in goal was just the start of CR7’s heroics for the day and fans wouldn’t have to wait much longer to see him find the paydirt a second time. Less than a minute after his first goal, Ronaldo nearly got on the end of another Carvajal cross at the back post, but a last minute block from Vierinha managed to send the ball out for a corner. In the end, all the Portuguese defender did was delay the inevitable.

Toni Kroos’ ensuing corner kick looped its way toward the near post, and there was really only one player that was going to get his head to it. Ronaldo made a darting run to lose Bruno Henrique in the scrum, and got just enough on the ball to head it low past Diego Benaglio for his second goal in just two minutes. The score was now 2-0 on the night, and 2-2 on aggregate. All Madrid needed was one goal, but if Wolfsburg managed to score, things would once again become difficult.

Things went from bad to worse for Wolfsburg just after the half hour mark as their star midfielder Julian Draxler was forced off through injury. What little hope that visiting fans had of their side squeaking out a goal against Los Blancos must’ve started to fade, and thoughts of a long hour loomed heavy. Luis Gustavo stung the hands of Keylor Navas moments after Draxler’s substitution with a long drive, and Bruno Henrique had a close-range chance blocked as Wolfsburg pushed for an invaluable goal before the end of the half, but neither side scored again as the sides went into the break with the 2-0 score line.

The two clubs exchanged chances to start the second half with André Schürrle sending a curled effort wide of the target, and Ronaldo firing a free kick into the wall. Credit to Wolfsburg and Dieter Hecking for pushing for a goal, rather than taking the “easy way out” and parking the bus for the remainder of the match. Would this attacking strategy pay off, or would it leave them too vulnerable to Madrid’s brilliant front three?

Sergio Ramos had the first big chance of the second 45 minutes when he got his head to a corner in the 66th minute. The captain’s header dinked off the inside of the post and looked as if it was spinning towards the back of the net. Benaglio did extremely well to reach behind him and pull the ball back, and the fourth official decided that it had not completely crossed the goal line.

Ronaldo’s moment of magic came in the 77th minute. Madrid had a free kick within shooting distance of Wolfsburg net, and there was no way that anyone but the two-time Ballon d’Or winner was going to strike it. His powerful drive actually snuck through the wall as Naldo and Bruno Henrique separated leaving Benaglio with little chance to recover for a save. The ball found its way to the bottom corner of the net and Madrid’s magical night was finally complete. This was Ronaldo’s 37th hat trick for Real Madrid, and there weren’t many more important than this one.

Ronaldo’s magisterial performance was good enough to send Madrid through to the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate, and you still have to consider them one of the favorites in the tournament. In the other semi-final, one of Wolfsburg’s former players, Kevin De Bruyne, was responsible for sending his new club Manchester City through to the next round after a 1-0 victory over Paris Saint-Germain.


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