Cristiano Ronaldo delivered the biggest return yet on Juventus’s multi-million euro investment with an incredible hat-trick that rescued their Champions League dream against Atletico Madrid.
The Portuguese star made light work of the much-vaunted Atletico defense, condemning the Spaniards, who had won the first leg 2-0, to the role of spectators in the Allianz Stadium.
“A Legend continues,” headlined the daily ‘A Bola’ in Ronaldo’s native Portugal with the Italian press hailing the performance as “Monstrous”, “Fabulous,” “Martians”.
Two headers and a penalty four minutes from time clinched a place in Friday’s last-eight draw with a dominant display and 3-2 aggregate victory.
“This is why Juventus bought me, to help them in games like this,” said the 34-year-old.
Juventus signed the five-time Ballon d’Or winner for 100 million euros ($117 million) last summer and pay him a 31 million euros annual salary. In return his mission is help the Italian giants to win the Champions League for the third time and first since 1996.
Time seems to have no hold on the Portuguese ace whose on-pitch performance has been unaffected by off-pitch concerns including an investigation of rape allegations against him in the United States dating back to 2009 which he vehemently denies.
Before Tuesday’s game, Ronaldo had scored just once in the Champions League this season, and a defeat would have been a failure not only for the team but a personal one.
Clearly the five-time Champions League winner — four times with Real Madrid and once with Manchester United — had not come to Turin to be eliminated in the last 16.
His four goals in the competition this season brings his record tally to 124 in 160 European matches — 16 more than Lionel Messi and six more than the entire Atletico team.
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has scored eight this season.
“It’s impossible to think Cristiano would only score one goal in this Champions League,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri.
– Self esteem –
Ronaldo’s arrival had made Juventus one of the favourites in the Champions League, which the Serie A champions have lost five times in the final since their 1996 title.
He has also given Juventus a new focus this season as they are already practically assured of an eighth consecutive Scudetto with an 18-point advantage on their nearest rivals.
“Our self-esteem has grown,” said captain Giorgio Chiellini of Ronaldo’s presence. “Cristiano has given us that little bit extra.”
Real Madrid, the three-time holders, showed they were sorely missing his presence when they were eliminated by Ajax Amsterdam, one of Juventus’s possible quarter-final opponents.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is wary of the threat of a Ronaldo-led Juventus.
“Juventus reached the final two times and lost so they brought Cristiano. He has all the pressure on his shoulders and he scores three against Atletico Madrid and they go through to the quarter-finals,” said Guardiola after his side beat Schalke 7-0.
“That is the type of guy and teams you face to achieve the next stages. We are going to try.”
The hat-trick is a big-time return on Juventus’s investment in Ronaldo with qualification for the last eight reportedly worth 105 million euros ($118 million), compared to 90 million last season.
On the Milan stock exchange, Juventus shares soared by 23% on Wednesday after the victory.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo said he also hopes to play a role in European champion’s Portugal’s up coming matches having not played since the beginning of the season.
“In the coming matches I hope to bring my contribution to the national side. I also miss that,” he told DAZN.
Portugal play Switzerland in the Nations Cup semi-finals on June 5, targeting a place in the finals which will be held in at home in Porto four days later.