Wednesday , June 19 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo’s spirit rallies Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo further cemented his name into Real Madrid lore by scoring a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory over Wolfsburg on Tuesday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu that sends Los Blancos to the Champions League semifinals.

The trio of goals from the Portuguese gave Real a 3-2 victory on aggregate following last week’s 2-0 defeat in Germany, and completes one of the greatest European comebacks in the history of the storied Madrid club.

Ronaldo scored twice in 90 seconds during the first half in the 16th and 17th minutes, before deciding the tie with a free kick in the 76th minute.

After resting a slew of starters in the 4-0 league win over Eibar last Saturday, manager Zinedine Zidane reverted back to his preferred starting XI, with Dani Carvajal at right-back and Casemiro in midfield the notable returnees.

It was no surprise to see Real the more aggressive of the two sides from the outset. Sergio Ramos teased the home fans early on by spinning a header off the crossbar, but soon they would be on their feet in wild celebration thanks to some shockingly poor defending from Wolfsburg.

A cross from Dani Carvajal on the quarter-hour mark deflected off the leg of a Wolfsburg player and somehow rolled past three others before it arrived to the feet of Ronaldo, who gladly slammed it in to cut Wolfsburg’s aggregate lead to 2-1.

A mere 90 seconds later Dieter Hecking’s side were left shellshocked, as Ronaldo headed home to give Real a 2-0 lead in the match and more importantly, evened the aggregate at 2-2. Again it was poor defending from the visitors; Ronaldo was able to get free on a corner kick and adroitly redirected a header inside the far post past Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

The pressure from Real kept coming. Karim Benzema was presented with a great chance to take the lead in the tie just shy of the half-hour mark, but the Frenchman shot right at Benaglio. To cap a miserable first 30 minutes, dangerous playmaker Julian Draxler, who was excellent in the first leg, was forced off with an injury and replaced by Max Kruse.

Wolfsburg looked to get back into the game, and they had a fine spell right after Draxler’s injury, highlighted by Luiz Gustavo’s laser beam from distance that forced Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas into a heads-up save and Bruno Henrique missing wide after a sumptuous run down the left and cross from André Schürrle.

Real enjoyed a very positive start to the second half, as a nervous-looking Wolfsburg looked as if they might succumb to another defensive lapse. The German outfit could not get out of their own half and they nearly did themselves in just after the hour mark when a Modric cross was almost redirected in by Wolfsburg defender Joshua Guilavogui past Benaglio.

By the smallest of margins Real were denied a third score when a Sergio Ramos header off a corner kick bounced off the post and miraculously spun to Benaglio. Initially it looked like the ball had to have crossed the line, but the goalline official did not signal that it was a goal and replays later confirmed that he adjudged correctly.

But Real would not be kept down, and their insistence at scoring a third goal paid off handsomely 15 minutes from time. Modric earned a free kick and Ronaldo’s rifled in from just outside the area to make it a 3-0 lead in the match and a 3-2 Real lead on aggregate. Good fortune was on Real’s side on the goal, as the Wolfsburg wall split a hole open just enough for the ball to whistle through.

The match was far from decided though, and a single Wolfsburg goal in the final minutes would have sent Real packing. Benzema tried his best to put matters to bed 10 minutes from time, but Benaglio made a spectacular save to keep his team alive.

At the other end, Wolfsburg were unable to craft a late miracle goal, allowing Real to continue their quest for an 11th European crown.

STORY: BAIDOO COLLINS

 

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