Cristiano Ronaldo scored another Champions League hat-trick as Real Madrid thrashed Atletico Madrid in the semi-final first leg to close in on a third final in four years.
Real were utterly dominant throughout against their city rivals at the Bernabeu and led after 10 minutes when Ronaldo headed home Casemiro’s cross.
It looked as if the hosts might fail to fully capitalise on their superiority – until Ronaldo let the ball bounce and smashed an unstoppable shot from 16 yards past Atletico keeper Jan Oblak, who had made several saves to keep his side in the tie.
And the Portugal forward ensured all the headlines would be his with a second consecutive Champions League hat-trick, having scored five goals in the quarter-final against Bayern Munich. It was his easiest goal of the night, as he controlled Lucas Vazquez’s cross in plenty of space before firing home.
Atletico only had one shot on target and will need to pull off one of the Champions League’s all-time special performances to stop double-chasing Real from ending their European dreams for the fourth straight season.
Ronaldo, the top scorer in the history of the Champions League with 103 goals, loves the big occasion. And occasions do not come much bigger.
He has now scored one more goal – 52 – in the knockout stages than he has in the group stages. He has now scored eight goals in his past three games in the competition, and is up to 13 Champions League semi-final goals.
At the age of 32, Ronaldo has reinvented himself as a striker, rather than the marauding wide player cutting in and shooting we watched for most of his career.
He was not heavily involved for large periods of the game, with only 50 touches of the ball compared with 123 for midfielder Toni Kroos. And he only had five shots – scoring with all of his efforts on target.
Ronaldo was in an offside position when Sergio Ramos’ cross came in for the first goal, but the ball never reached him, instead coming out to Casemiro, who crossed for Ronaldo to head home.
His second came when Karim Benzema held off Diego Godin, and Filipe Luis’ follow-up clearance bounced up to Ronaldo, who lashed home.
And he surely wrapped the tie up when he added a third in the 86th minute.
No team has retained the Champions League since its rebranding in 1992, but Real – who were in the swashbuckling form we have seen for most of the season – are in a great position to do so.
Manager Zinedine Zidane, who led his side to last season’s trophy with victory over Atletico in the final in his first six months in charge, is chasing a double – and their hopes of a first La Liga title since 2012 are in their hands.
Real – who have now scored in 59 consecutive games – had 17 shots against Atletico on Tuesday, with Benzema going close on several occasions, most notably with a bicycle kick that went just wide from Ronaldo’s cross.
Raphael Varane almost scored with a header but was denied by a brilliant Oblak stop, while fellow defender Dani Carvajal, who went off injured at half-time, also forced a save from the Atletico keeper.
Such is the strength of Zidane’s squad that Wales forward Gareth Bale, out with a calf injury, was not missed at all – with replacement Isco impressing.
And now, on the back of their first clean sheet in this year’s tournament, they will surely fancy their chances against Juventus or Monaco in the Cardiff final on Saturday, June 3.