TURIN, Italy – No matter what jersey he wears, Cristiano Ronaldo, the 34-year-old goal machine, is ruthless when the bright lights of the Champions League shine, becoming capable of writing soccer history with an unstoppable kick or a well-timed header.
Portugal and Juventus star forward Ronaldo once again proved himself to be a titan of European soccer after he single-handedly powered an offensive comeback that carried his side into the quarterfinals with a 3-2 on aggregate victory over Atletico Madrid.
On Tuesday, the Portugal international, who has lifted the Champions League trophy in each of the last three seasons as a member of Real Madrid, bagged two headers and a penalty to earn the Serie A giants a 3-0 win in the second leg of Europe’s elite club competition round of 16.
Tuesday night’s heroic hat-trick added to the Portugal star’s already impressive record of most goals ever in the Champions League with 124; 18 goals ahead of Ronaldo’s arch-rival, Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.
After he scored only one goal in the group stages of this year’s CL tourney, the Portuguese icon led a stunning second-leg comeback following Juve’s 2-0 loss to Atletico in the first leg on Feb. 20.
The seemingly evergreen striker’s treble at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium Tuesday night is the fourth hat-trick of his career against Atletico, extending his overall goal tally against the La Liga side to 25 goals in 33 games.
It is also his eighth Champions League hat-trick, equaling the record of Messi.
Ronaldo’s hunger for goals and glory is reportedly boundless as after Tuesday’s show he obviously has his eyes set on winning his fourth consecutive title.
Atletico took a conservative, defensive approach to Tuesday night’s Turin duel as the home side went on the attack from the starting whistle.
Juve’s Giorgio Chiellini put the ball in the Atletico net in the 4th minute, but the goal was ruled out for a foul that Ronaldo committed against goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Atleti’s defensive crew did an admirable job of keeping cool under the constant Juve pressure, yet it was not enough as in the 27th minute the Atletico defense broke and Ronaldo connected with a header off Federico Bernardeschi’s cross, beating Oblak, and cutting the visitors’ edge in half.
Cristiano threatened to score two more times before half-time with an impressive bicycle kick and another header that both flew wide and the teams went to the dressing rooms with the game still up for grabs.
Three minutes into the second half, Ronaldo’s header off Joao Cancelo’s cross drove Oblak back into the net.
Though the keeper made the stop, enough of the ball crossed the line for the referee to call the shot a goal.
At that point, both head coaches made changes.
Atletico’s Diego Simeone pulled France midfielder Thomas Lemar off in favor of Argentina forward Angel Correa and Juve’s manager Massimiliano Allegri opted to replace midfielder Leonardo Spinazzola with Argentina forward Paulo Dybala.
The match then settled into an extended quiet stretch until the 80th minute, when Allegri took the bold step of sending in the 19-year-old forward Moise Kean, the star of last week’s Serie A win against Udinese.
Kean had a chance to score the winner but failed against Oblak.
With five minutes to go before the second-half stoppage time, Atleti’s Correa brought down Juve’s Bernardeschi inside the box and the referee awarded the hosts a penalty.
Ronaldo fooled Oblak and successfully converted from the 12-yard mark to set off delirium among the 40,000-plus faithful at Allianz.