Cristiano Ronaldo continues love affair with Champions League as PSG are jilted on night of passion
A rejuvenated Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo could yet find the chemistry to defend the Champions League after a heady 3-1 Valentine's Day win over Paris Saint-Germain, writes Desmond Kane.
This was a particularly poignant time for the venerated and varnished Cristiano Ronaldo to renew his vows with football’s sexiest prize. A side who had been stumbling in the dark, Real Madrid remain a whopping 17 points behind bitter foes Barcelona in a catastrophic La Liga campaign, suddenly found a stirring of the loins when it mattered most in the competition that always matters the most.
Ronaldo, at 33 still terrific theatre amid the threat, became the first man in Champions League history to plunder a century of goals for the same club. A 100th and 101st goal for the forward in a tournament Real Madrid have won 12 times, and all suddenly looks well in the frazzled world of Los Blancos. Football is indeed a fickle companion.
A 3-1 win in the first leg of the last 16 might not be game over, but it must cast serious doubt over Paris Saint-Germain’s ability to recover from what derailed their Qatari-financed juggernaut in the Spanish capital.
Not quite a St Valentine’s Day calamity at the Bernabeu, but on the annual occasion devoted to lovers the world over, PSG continue to have a vexed relationship with football’s most lusted after trophy.
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after Marcelo scores their third goal as Paris Saint-Germain’s Alphonse Areola looks dejected.Eurosport
PSG began the evening in Madrid appearing to fall madly in love with the chase before ending the night feeling woozy, like they had again been jilted by the object of their affection.
It is fair to say the Champions League appears to have a rather arduous effect on the ardour of the men from the world’s traditional romance capital. Many feel PSG are morally bankrupt for the petro-dollars they have lavished on their project, but none of that will matter if they conquer Europe.
First they must conquer their own inability to master such fraught evenings.
They carried a 4-0 lead to Barcelona at the same stage last season only to self-destruct in losing 6-1 in the second leg at the Camp Nou. If they fail to retrieve this situation on March 6, there will be long and lengthy recriminations.
It may soon see PSG heading for a messy divorce with Unai Emery, a coach who gambled on the night only to be bluffed out by Zinedine Zidane in the opposite technical area.
When Adrien Rabiot pierced the net on 33 minutes with Neymar, all £200m worth of him, scurrying around the place with severe menace, all looked well in PSG’s world.
But they conceded prior to half-time when the youngster Giovani Lo Celso stupidly floored Toni Kroos enabling Ronaldo to thump away the penalty via a volley as the ball clearly moved upon address.
No matter. 1-1 was still something to savour for PSG until Emery started to meddle.
His decision to bring on a defender, Thomas Meunier, for striker Edinson Cavani with around 25 minutes remaining to hold what they had was made worse by what followed.
Perhaps sensing the strategic error nearby, Zinedine Zidane introduced Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio for Isco and Casemiro with 13 minutes left of normal time.
The change was almost instant as Madrid gained enough of the key possession with Asensio providing the deliveries for Madrid to unearth two goals.
Neymar (PSG) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) embrace at full-time. Getty Images
Ronaldo kneed into the net on 83 minutes before Marcelo found what could be killer third goal four minutes later with a volley that bounced up and over a duped PSG keeper Alphonse Areola.
When a club have spent over €400 million to assemble a side hell-bent on Champions League riches, you expect to be left with more than a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine long before the climax in Kiev.
You also expect more than a coach to fold when he is holding a winning hand by withdrawing a figure such as Cavani. Emery is a manager who has never gone beyond the last 16 in five attempts at the Champions League. Rabiot put it succinctly afterwards.
"The problem is it's easy to score eight against Dijon, or four goals in league games. It is in these matches that you need to be decisive."
Money means nothing in a relationship without the chemistry that the French side clearly lacked in Madrid.
"We showed lots of personality and proved that despite all the speculation about us, you can never presume Madrid are dead," said Sergio Ramos.
For PSG, who suffered their first Valentine Day's defeat, the romance of the Champions League is certainly dead.
Reigniting the spark is essential otherwise PSG will be declared impotent. Despite their money making them so easy to love