The Portuguese scored twice in the first leg and popped up again on Tuesday as Zinedine Zidane’s side advanced at the expense of PSG
Real Madrid rarely looked in trouble. Los Blancos beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on February 14 and at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, the European champions finished the job.
Once again it was Cristiano Ronaldo who punished PSG at the Parc des Princes. The Portuguese had netted nine times in the Champions League group stages and added three more in the last-16 first leg and second leg to take his tally to 12.
That victory also saw Zinedine Zidane’s side travel to Paris with an advantage that had seldom seemed possible in the teams’ meeting at the Bernabeu, which was swung very much in Madrid’s favour by goals in the 83rd and 86th minutes.
PSG put on a brave face after that result and despite losing Neymar to injury in the build-up to this return match, the French side united under a positive message: “Together, we will do it.”
Unfortunately for them, however, Madrid also believed in themselves. And, perhaps, more so. None of the pre-match intimidation by PSG ultras, who attempted to keep Madrid’s players awake with noise outside their hotel, nor talk about the match officials or the hostile atmosphere within the stadium, seemed to make much difference.
Real Madrid are 12-time champions of Europe for a reason and they have seen all this before. Los Blancos are not easily intimidated and the same can be said of Ronaldo, who has admitted that he thrives in adversity.
And Zidane, to his credit, picked an XI on merit – something he has not always done in the past. Marcos Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, who came on to help Madrid win the first leg, were both included either side of Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic in a strong midfield four as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were left on the bench – along with Isco and Gareth Bale – despite recovering from injury.
Those choices paid off. Madrid worked hard to weather an early PSG storm which never really materialised and Karim Benzema missed the best chance of a first half in which the home side created very little.
Despite the best efforts of their passionate fans, the PSG comeback never got going and it was Lucas and Asensio who combined for Ronaldo to head home and give Madrid the lead shortly into the second half.
Cristiano had done it again. The Portuguese tends to save his brilliant best for the Champions League and he now has 12 goals in Europe this term, while he also became the second player – after Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 – to score in nine consecutive fixtures in the competition.
The 33-year-old has been priming himself to peak for another assault at European glory this season and, having netted key strikes in the knockout stages against Bayern Munich, Atletico and in the final against Juventus last term, it was no surprise to see him produce another priceless goal at the Parc des Princes.
Edinson Cavani equalised later in the game, almost by accident as the ball hit his leg and went in, but by then Emery’s men were playing with 10 after Marco Verratti’s red card and a comeback was just not on the cards.
Instead, Real Madrid scored again through a deflected Casemiro effort after Lucas had won the ball back and Los Blancos prevailed on their 116th anniversary to keep dreams of a third successive Champions League crown alive.
So they may be out of the Copa del Rey and off the pace in La Liga, but led by the insatiable Ronaldo, Real remain the team to beat in Europe.