Yesterday, at the Bernabeu Stadium, in Madrid Spain, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo defeated Italy’s Juventus in the teams’ Champions League second leg clash, with a single penalty kick score, after enduring nearly 100 minutes of professional and personal transgressions against him. The score line read Juve 3–1 Real, but the aggregate score read Real 4–3 Juve, and Ronaldo had scored three of Real Madrid’s goals.
But yesterday was special from beginning to the very end and worth looking at in some detail.
The Italians came in inspired by their countrymen’s (Roma) 3-0 defeat of Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico, turning around a 4-1 loss to the Catalans in the first leg at the Camp Nou, drawing even at 4-4 in the aggregate score, and advancing on the away goals rule. Juve had lost 3-0 at home with Ronaldo scoring a brace including his famous bicycle kick goal. So, the Italians were out for revenge and on a mission for a historic comeback. They needed three goals to draw even and force added time or penalties, or four goals to win the tie outright.
To their credit Juve played their best football of the Champions League season yesterday, and their coach, Massimiliano Allegri, had devised a brilliantly simple attacking plan that ensured each time Real’s defensive wingbacks, Dani Carvajal or Marcelo, wandered up the field a ball would be lobbed over to that empty corridor to begin a Juve attack. Similarly, the Italians would use six-foot-three Mario Mandzukic as their target man on aerial crosses, particularly when guarded by either the five-eight Carvajal or the starting rookie Jesus Vallejo.
But there was another strategy at play. Anyone but Ronaldo would be allowed to score. He was not to show Juve up again, at all costs.
So, the game began with a clear plan on Juve’s side. Real, one would assume, had been told by their coach, Zinedine Zidane, that no lack of effort would be tolerated and that the previous win had to be put out of their minds. The game had to be seized less they suffer the same fate as their Spanish archrivals. And then the whistle blew.
Twenty-three seconds into the match, Mattia De Sciglio fouled Ronaldo, but the infraction was not called despite how obvious, rough and unnecessary the foul was and despite the striker’s complaint.
At the 1:19 minute, an unmarked Mario Mandzukic powerfully headed in Juventus’ first goal off a Sami Khedira cross, only, some have argued that Khedira was arguably off sides when he received the pass that led to his cross. The ref and linesmen did not make that call.
At the 7:18 mark, Juve’s defensive stalwart, Giorgio Chiellini, blocked Ronaldo, who was running in possession of the ball, into Juve’s Alex Sandro, sandwiching the Real Madrid striker between the two defenders and allowing Sandro to put his shoulder into Ronaldo’s chest with such force that he brought the striker down just outside the far-right edge of the box. Neither foul was called.
At the 9:03 mark, Chiellini held onto Ronaldo in the box as Toni Kroos, on the left wing, was looking at his teammate to try a pass. But, upon seeing Ronaldo turned completely around by the bear hug the Italian defender executed, Kroos opted to pass the ball to the far-right wing where Carvajal trapped and began another play. Ronaldo complained to the ref but was ignored.
At the 9:13 mark, Isco equalized for Real Madrid, chipping in a rebound off a Ronaldo shot, but the Spanish midfielder was called off sides. The official standing by the post, about 10 yards away and facing the play, did not make the call, but the linesman 35+ yards away did. The replays showed the call was arguable at best and that the ref relied on the linesman to make the call. It could have been 1-1.
At the 16:42 mark, Stephan Lichtsteiner replaced De Sciglio who had a muscle pull.
At the 17:34 mark, Lichtsteiner fouled Marcelo, by the sideline, about 45 yards away from the Juve goal. The Brazilian wingback was attempting a pass to Ronaldo. But, with the Juve defender’s contact made late and the foul obvious the ref and linesman made no call. It only took the substitute defender 52 seconds to commit his first foul, not quite as quick as the 23 seconds it took De Sciglio, but effective in ensuring Ronaldo did not receive the pass.
At the 18:54 mark, Ronaldo was fouled for the fifth time, this time by Medhi Benatia, and this time the ref awarded the foul. By then, Ronaldo had been fouled every four minutes by each of the four Italian defenders, soon it would be all five, including the substitute defender. If it quacks like a duck…
At the 29:34 mark, Ronaldo was held in the box by Benatia, who grabbed the striker around the neck as he awaited Kroos’ cross. The ensuing clearance resulted in a Real recovery and when the second cross arrived Ronaldo was sandwiched by Khedira and Benatia, the former grabbing him and pushing him into the back of latter. Ronaldo was unable to participate in either play but no foul was called.
At the 30:43 mark, Benatia fouled Ronaldo again but no call was made.
At the 35:12 mark, Lichtsteiner grabbed Ronaldo and brought him down around the 43-yard line of Juve’s side. The defender received a yellow card and the ref admonished the Juve player when he complained it was his first foul on Ronaldo. What a Freudian slip! The ref frowned but then responded and gestured that Lichtsteiner had already committed three previous fouls.
At the 37:03 mark, Mandzukic jumped high above his short marker, Carvajal, to head in a perfect Lichtsteiner cross from the right wing to the far-left post. Keylor Navas got a hand on the ball late and the score then stood at 2-0.
At the 42:49 mark, Ronaldo juked Benatia in the box and as he tried to get around the beaten defender Benatia reached back and stiff-armed Ronaldo with both arms, throwing the striker off balance and bringing him down. A clear penalty not called.
At the 45:00 mark, Chiellini fouled Ronaldo near the sideline and was called for it! On the ensuing cross from Kroos, Chiellini wrapped his arms around Ronaldo not even allowing him to move sideways let alone jump up to meet the ball. No foul was called.
When the whistle blew, Ronaldo left the pitch frustrated and annoyed, knowing he had been fouled often but probably not aware it had been 12 times, once every 3:45 minutes, consistently, throughout the half. He must have left the pitch telling himself the second half would be different.
But, at the 60:00 mark, Blaise Matuidi was first to the bouncing ball Navas had fumbled toward his own goal and the ensuing tap-in made the score 3-0.
Much action ensued, and to be fair the rhythm of the fouling was matched with some good play. But no more scoring took place for the remaining 30 minutes.
At the 90:00 mark, Benatia pushed and kicked substitute Lucas Vazquez from behind, knocking him to the ground as he was about to chest down a headed pass from Ronaldo who had outleapt his maker to softly gift the young striker a chance at the winning goal from just outside the goalie’s box. An obvious foul in the box was committed by Juve. So, the resultant penalty was called.
Ninety minutes of play and the one constant from the 23rd second to the 90th minute was Juve’s incessant fouling.
Yet, somehow, Juve keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, who scooped up the ball when Vazquez lay sprawled on the ground, and defenders Chiellini, Lichtsteiner, Benatia, and Sandro, and just about every Juve player, argued it was not a penalty. They were all so incensed, they said, that such a foul would be called “at the last possible moment of a key game.” They never argued it was not a foul only that it should not have been called, let alone be called a penalty. Unfortunately, the rule book does exist.
So, after the match the Italians had nearly been able to conjure into added time actually reached its end, the Juve players could not believe it would not end in their favor. Their surprise was such that, poor souls, they lost track of time. They argued from the 90th minute to the 97th minute despite the fact that the penalty had long been called. There was something almost at the level of a serenely biblical retribution, a righting of wrongs, when one saw a miffed Giorgio gesturing that Real would thus win unfairly.
Meanwhile, the enraged Buffon carried on so dramatically that he managed to push the ref twice during the ensuing melee and thus earn a direct red card. Consequently, substitute six-foot-five goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was brought in to replace Gonzalo Higuain, the sacrificed player Allegri designated.
The ref allowed the multi-minute attempt at icing as well as the well wishes each Juve player managed to share with the penalty taker, Ronaldo, as he attempted to place the ball on the penalty spot. Yet the delay seemed fitting, as if the wait would make the eventual result that much more climactic.
Yet, the Portuguese superstar simply took the delay in as he did the well wishes and patiently waited his turn to repay the visitors for their match-long personalized treatment. When the whistle finally blew, Ronaldo sprinted up to the ball and slammed a shot high and right, to the left of the diving keeper who had guessed the side correctly. Szczesny had dived full out to reach the far side of the goal and stop any ball kicked near that post, but, he had gambled on the low drive…as the ball blasted into the goal high above him.
Goal, match, and tie, Ronaldo.