April 11, 2018 / 11:30 PM / 3 months ago

Irrepressible Ronaldo has final say in cliffhanger

MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo added further sheen to an already glistening reputation by staying ice cool to thrash home a decisive 98th-minute penalty in Wednesday’s enthralling Champions League quarter-final second leg with Juventus.

Soccer Football - Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg - Real Madrid vs Juventus - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - April 11, 2018 Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their first goal from a penalty REUTERS/Susana Vera

The Portuguese has been at his devastating best in the competition this season to silence his doubters after a poor start to the domestic campaign and there was an air of inevitability that he would have the final say at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ronaldo had struck one of the greatest goals in the competition’s history in the first leg as Real opened an apparently healthy 3-0 lead in the tie only to see that advantage wiped out in remarkable circumstances on Wednesday.

Two goals from Juventus’s Mario Mandzukic and one from Blaise Matuidi took the tie to the verge of extra time.

Soccer Football - Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg - Real Madrid vs Juventus - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - April 11, 2018 Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo puts the ball down before scoring their first goal from a penalty REUTERS/Susana Vera

Ronaldo, however, had other ideas.

The Portuguese had scored in his previous nine games in the competition this season and had been thwarted several times by Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon but kept looking for the crucial goal.

He helped force the last-gasp penalty by heading the ball towards Lucas Vazquez, who was felled by Medhi Benatia, and was then made to wait an age before taking the spot kick as the Juventus protests led to Buffon receiving his marching orders.

“My pulse was racing but I stayed calm, I knew it was decisive,” Ronaldo told reporters after firing Real to the semi-finals for an eighth consecutive year and keeping them on track to win the trophy for a third straight season.

“We suffered and this has to serve as a lesson for us that in football you can’t take anything for granted, you have to keep fighting until the end,” he added.

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His coach Zinedine Zidane had his attacking talisman to thank for avoiding an exit that would have ensured Real ended the season with no major silverware.

“Cristiano never lets you down,” Zidane said of the all-time top scorer in the Champions League who has hit 15 goals in this season’s European campaign.

“He is used to doing this. He picks up the ball, he scores, and goes home.”

Juve captain Buffon was sent off for pushing referee Michael Oliver as he furiously protested the penalty, but Ronaldo had no doubt that it was the correct decision.

“I don’t understand why they protested,” Ronaldo said.

“Lucas was caught from behind, if it’s not a penalty it’s a goal.”

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis

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