TURIN, Italy (Reuters) - The Juventus stadium broke into applause and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, once a player of extraordinary gifts himself, looked dumbstruck at the audacity of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal.
Just when everyone thought the Portuguese had done it all, he produced a strike in Real’s 3-0 Champions League quarter-final, first leg win at Juve on Tuesday that was astonishing even by the standards of his remarkable career.
Real were 1-0 ahead and struggling to keep the hosts at bay when Ronaldo, with his back to goal, launched himself into the air to meet Dani Carvajal’s chipped cross with a bicycle kick — known in Spanish-speaking countries as a “Chilean” — that flew past dumbfounded Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The timing was perfect while the athleticism, worthy of a youngster more than a 33-year-old, ridiculed suggestions that the record-amassing Portugal forward is past his prime.
“Actually, I need to say that Cristiano has also missed some chances this evening, at least two, but that’s football” said perfectionist Zidane, who played for both clubs.
“Which was better, that goal or my volley (for Real) in the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen (in 2002)? Definitely mine,” he joked, before paying tribute to Ronaldo.
“He shows every time that he is a special player. He always wants to do great things in the Champions League and he never gets tired of doing it, that’s his great quality.”
Real captain Sergio Ramos said the applause from the Juve fans was “the prize of everyone giving him recognition for so many years at this level.”
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, on the other hand, wished his team had found Ronaldo on an off-night.
“I can’t fault the lads for anything, we bumped into an extraordinary team and probably the best player in the world,” he said.
“When you play against sides like this, you need a little bit of luck and, more than anything else, to meet Ronaldo on a bad night.”
Buffon, the victim, was typically generous in his praise.
“We saw what Ronaldo is and always has been - an extraordinary champion who, alongside (Barcelona’s) Lionel Messi, is reaching the biggest heights,” he said.
“They should be compared to Diego Maradona and Pele for the way they ultimately are able to decide the matches and trophies won by their teams.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris