Cristiano Ronaldo was given a standing ovation as Real Madrid took an almighty leap towards another Champions League semi-final with a 3-0 win over Juventus in Turin.
The Portuguese scored twice – the second a stunning overhead kick – and Brazilian Marcelo also found the net as the holders proved too good for the Italian champions.
Ronaldo took just 167 seconds to make his presence felt in the Allianz Stadium, bagging the earliest of his 119 Champions League goals as he notched for the 10th successive European game.
Marcelo, the left-back who plays with the invention of a creative, flicked a pass through two Bianconeri bodies to find Isco free on the left side; the Spaniard sashayed towards the box, and cut back a low cross, onto which Ronaldo darted before ruthlessly prodding past Gianluigi Buffon’s despairing dive.
Madrid took charge, playing with their usual swagger and control and completely dominating the opening 20 minutes.
But they had keeper Keylor Navas to thank for keeping them ahead after 22 minutes, when the Costa Rican produced a stunning reflex save to deny Gonzalo Higuain from scoring against his former club from point-blank range.
Mattia De Sciglio’s low drive evaded the diving Dybala before Toni Kroos thrashed the crossbar from 25 yards as both went close before half-time.
Ronaldo went inches from adding a second just one minute into the second period, before Dybala’s deflected freekick went the wrong side of the post.
Juve will be sick of Ronaldo however, and he wasn’t to be denied just after the hour mark, notching his ninth goal against them just after the hour mark.
Initially Ronaldo had attempted to tee up substitute Lucas Vazquez, but after Buffon’s save had turned the ball wide, Dani Carvajal’s cross was met by a stupendous bicycle kick, which left Buffon standing and Juve fans clapping the greatness of their nemesis.
Paulo Dybala, booked in the first half for a dive, was shown a second yellow shortly after for a high boot, and Juve’s race was run.
However, a Madrid side scenting blood weren’t finished, with Marcelo adding a third and all but ensuring their semi-final spot.
Here are 5 talking points from Turin…
1. Isco proves once more why benched Bale now second string
“If Gareth plays or if Isco plays it’s the same,” said Luka Modric in the build up to the game. “Isco is a fantastic player. Both give a lot of quality to the team.”
Only, it isn’t the same. Certainly not to Zidane, nor to this Madrid side.
Injuries to Bale allowed Isco to make a first team space for himself last term and he took it with both hands; behind Ronaldo, he was perhaps Madrid’s most important player during last year’s run to the league and European double as Zidane moved from 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 featuring a midfield diamond.
Allied to that change as well as the Portuguese superstar’s evolution from wide forward into penalty-box poacher, Isco’s lateral movement and intelligent interpretation of space – where it is and how to exploit it – makes him the idealto play behind the preferred front pairing of Ronaldo and the selfless Karim Benzema.
Within three minutes in Turin, the Spaniard – who bagged a hat-trick in La Roja’s 6-1 thumping of Argentina last week – had shown why he had been preferred to Bale, finding space out wide to receive a pass, draw a defender and then pick out Ronaldo to score.
This season the 25-year-old has lacked consistency – as has the Madrid team as a whole – but just as the season heads towards its most crucial juncture, Isco is back approaching something like his best. Juve couldn’t handle the clever footwork, driving runs and considered passing, nor the overloads caused by his movement out to the flanks.
If he continues to perform like this over the next six weeks, then Bale has little chance of nudging the diminutive Andaluscian out of Los Blancos’ starting XI.
2. Dybala’s top level struggles
It is now 26 times that Paulo Dybala has played for Juventus in European football’s premier club competition. Thus far, his record is a somewhat underwhelming one.
Only six goals have been forthcoming, while a player blessed with such tremendous creative gifts is also yet to register an assist.
Now 24, and wearing the shirt previously frequented by Michel Platini and Alessandro Del Piero, he simply needs to be grabbing games like this by the scruff of the neck and making an impression, alaIsco. Unfortunately, much like last year’s final, this occasion rather passed him by, until his early exit, sent off for a second yellow in the 65th minute.
His struggles against Europe’s elite, plus his failure to find the net at international level in 12 caps, perhaps explain why he may well be absent when Jorge Sampaoli names his World Cup squad.
3. Ronaldo’s greatness
Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu. Andres Iniesta at all Spanish grounds. Ronaldo at Old Trafford. There are likely a few more.
But those occasions where away players are applauded by an entire home crowd are few and far between.
However, after his 119th Champions League goal – a quite marvellous overhead kick – Cristiano Ronaldo was duly applauded by those in attendance wearing black and white.
Having bagged a brace in last season’s final in Cardiff to give Madrid victory against the Italian champs, Ronaldo did likewise here, a tremendous predatory strike followed up by a tremendous feat of athleticism and technique.
His greatness and place in the history books has long been assured. But he’s far from done when it comes to adding fresh chapters.
4. Keylor Navas comes up trumps again
Ever since he ascended to be the No.1 at the Bernabeu, questions have always followed Keylor Navas.
But Zinedine Zidane – amid extremely public pursuits of David de Gea from those above – has always stayed loyal to the Costa Rican stopper.
And consistently Navas has come up trumps for the Frenchman, with big saves at key times, in the Champions League.
At 1-0 he made another here, to deny Higuain when he should have scored from close range and produced another fine stop late on. He’s on course for, potentially, a third successive winners’ medal.
5. Play it again Max?
If all goes to plan, Max Allegri will fend off the challenge of Napoli and Juventus will once more win the Scudetto thisis now the time for the Italian coach to depart the Bianconeri?
He has done a tremendous job, building on the work of Antonio Conte and taking the side forwards; Conte struggled to make any impression in Europe with Juve, but Allegri has reached two finals in four years and will have only been beaten by Europe’s three powerhouses in the knockout rounds; Real, Barcelona and Bayern.
However, an ageing side was made to look precisely that here and looks to have reached the end of the line.
Last season, simply, was their best opportunity, a side at its apex.
Now, it appears on a downward trajectory, with a legendary defence in need of evolution and Buffon closing on the end.
Does Allegri have it in him to stay put and try to rejuvenate? Or is it now time for him to move to pastures new? Unquestionably, there will be admirers.