Madrid (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo is human after all, or so he claims, despite sealing another “special” Champions League night with a hat-trick to put Real Madrid on the verge of the final once more.
Ronaldo’s treble sealed a commanding 3-0 semi-final, first leg lead over Atletico Madrid and extended his advantage as the top scorer of all-time between the two sides with 21 in Madrid derbies.
“With a combination of dedication and hard work, things come naturally,” said Ronaldo on Wednesday.
“I am happy, lucky and human.”
Ronaldo’s second hat-trick of the season against Atletico took his tally a stunning eight Champions League goals in his last three outings having hit five as Real saw off Bayern Munich 6-3 in the quarter-finals.
“It was a game full of emotions. The team was phenomenal and to score three goals made it a special night,” he added.
The front pages of Madrid sports dailies Marca and AS agreed.
“A colossal Cristiano KOs Atletico with three goals,” said Marca.
“Real Madrid played great, but it was he who applied the finishing touch three times over,” read AS’ editorial.
Contrary to previous years, Ronaldo, 32, is in the best form of the campaign at the business end of the season having been consistently rested against weaker opposition by coach Zinedine Zidane to reserve his best for the big occasion.
“I don’t know whether it’s all down to him being rested,” said Zidane.
“Goalscoring is something he has over others, that is what makes him unique.”
– European pedigree –
Ronaldo has now scored three more Champions League goals than Atletico have in their history with 103.
That stat sums up the difference in European pedigree between Madrid’s two major clubs.
For all the great work done to revive a sleeping giant in Atletico by Diego Simeone over the past five-and-a-half years, ending their hex against Real in the Champions League continues to allude them.
The past three seasons have seen Atletico fall by the narrowest of margins due to late goals and via a penalty shootout in last year’s final.
Most worryingly for Simeone, this was not the same hard luck story.
Atletico were well beaten, failing to even register a single shot on target.
“A disappointing Atletico didn’t wake up from their nightmare of the past few years,” concluded Marca.
Atletico do have one final, unlikely shot at redemption in next Wednesday’s second leg (May 10).
Despite their disappointment and despair, a special atmosphere is assured as it will be their final European game after 50 years at the Vicente Calderon.
“It seems impossible, but it is football and football has these unexpected things that make it marvellous,” said Simeone.
“Until the last drip of hope is gone, we will give it everything we have.
“Being Atletico Madrid we might just be capable of it.”
It is more likely being Atletico will mean missing out to Real once more.
Anything but a miracle will leave Atletico headed for what could be a turbulent summer on and off the field.
Doubts remain over whether their new 67,000 Wanda Metropolitano stadium will be ready in time for the start of next season as planned.
As things stand, Simeone can’t strengthen his squad due to one-year transfer ban.
And they risk losing their prized asset with a host of clubs, including Real and Manchester United willing to meet Antoine Griezmann’s 100 million euro ($109 million) buyout clause.
Not that Ronaldo or Real will care. Their quest for history looks set for a Cardiff final on June 3 where they could become the first side to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.
“We have a small advantage, we are a step away from Cardiff and hopefully we can finish it off,” added Ronaldo.
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