Cristiano Ronaldo was under no illusions when he signed for Juventus last July.
One of the greatest players of his generation, a five-time Champions League winner, the competition’s all-time record goalscorer, Ronaldo’s brief was clear: Bring the European crown back to Turin.
On Tuesday night, he accepted the challenge in a way only he could, dragging his side back from the brink and firing it into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Trailing 2-0 from the the first leg in Madrid, Ronaldo led his side to victory by scoring all three goals in a 3-0 win against Atletico in Turin, including a dramatic 86th-minute penalty.
It was the first time Juventus had come back from a two-goal defeat in the first leg, prompting Ronaldo to tell Sky Italia: “Maybe that’s why Juventus signed me. To help it do things that it had never done before. This result is a great push for the future, we’re strong and we showed it.”
Atletico must be sick of the sight of Ronaldo pushing for the future – he’s now scored a remarkable 25 goals in 33 games against the Spanish side.
His winning strike – his eighth Champions League hat-trick – sparked wild celebrations inside Juventus Stadium, including from Ronaldo who mimicked the “cojones” celebration favored by Atleti coach Diego Simeone after the first leg.
Those in the higher echelons at Real Madrid must be pondering whether they should have ever let him leave.
Juventus won’t care though. Not since 1996 has it won the Champions League and after defeats in the 2015 and 2017 finals, Ronaldo was brought in for one purpose and one purpose only – to win the title.
His $117 million move from Real Madrid was never about ensuring an eighth successive domestic league title for Juventus, nor was it about selling shirts or bolstering the brand.
For Juventus, it was for nights like Tuesday where one of football’s truly global superstars provided yet another reminder, why at the age of 34, he’s not done yet.
And yet, Ronaldo, the competition’s leading scorer with 121 in 159 games going into this contest, had struggled in this season’s Champions League.
Ahead of the second leg in Turin, Ronaldo had managed just one goal in his six Champions League games this season, his lowest tally in a single campaign since 2005/06 where he failed to score at all.
According to Who Scored, of the 69 players to have had 10 or more shots, Ronaldo had the worst conversion rate (2.9%) than any other player in the Champions League this season.
And yet, when Juventus needed its talisman the most, the man who always seems to thrive on the biggest stages of all, Ronaldo delivered.
Such was the power of his performance, Juve’s share price rose 24% to €1.58 following the victory. Though it has since dropped to €1.41, it is still a sharp increase on the €1.22 the club closed at the previous evening.
Juventus, so insipid in the first leg three weeks ago, dominated the opening stages and felt it should have gone ahead after just four minutes when Ronaldo challenged Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, and the ball fell to Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini to fire home.
As Juventus players rushed to celebrate, referee Bjorn Kuipers ruled out the goal for a foul by Ronaldo.
Unperturbed, the home side pressed on and eventually found a way through when Ronaldo powered home a header from close-range after meeting Federico Bernardeschi’s cross.
Four minutes after the interval it was 2-0, this time Ronaldo meeting Joao Cancelo’s cross from the right to head the ball inches over the goalline.
When Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus last July there were few in the red and white half of the city who were sorry to see him go.
For Atletico, Ronaldo had been a thorn in its side throughout his nine-year stay in the Spanish capital.
Only Sevilla (27) and Getafe (23) had conceded more goals to Ronaldo than Atletico during the player’s time at Real.
Not forgetting, of course, the two Champions League final defeats by Ronaldo-inspired Real, both in 2014 and again in 2016.
But for Atletico, this was supposed to be different. It had won the first leg 2-0, and Ronaldo had failed to make an impact upon his return to Madrid.
Yet, where Atletico was tigerish and insatiable in the first leg, here it was outfought, outplayed and rarely looked like being able to preserve its first leg advantage.
“We weren’t able to find ways to attack them,” Atletico captain Diego Godin told reporters.
“They were able to score and we couldn’t score the goal that we needed to qualify. We will continue giving it our all until the end of the season.”
Atletico, known for having one of the most miserly defenses in European football, simply could not cope with the movement and intricacy of its opponents.
At 2-0, 2-2 on aggregate, Juventus smelled blood. Just minutes after Moise Kean had fired a warning shot, arrowing his effort just wide of the Atletico goal, the Italian side landed the knockout blow.
Bernardeschi, a constant menace in the Juventus midfield, danced his way into the penalty area where he was fouled by Angel Correa.
That left the stage set for Ronaldo, who fired home from the spot to send Juventus into the last eight and inflict yet more misery on Atletico.
“It was always going to be a special night and it was, not only for the goals, but for the team,” Ronaldo added.
“This is the mentality of champions, this is the journey to follow, we enjoyed a magical night. Atletico were a difficult team, but we were strong too. We will see what will happen.”
City strolls past Schalke
In the night’s other game, Manchester City cruised to a 7-0 victory over German side Schalke to secure a 10-2 aggregate victory.
Sergio Aguero scored twice with Leon Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus also on target.
“It was a clear result,” Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola told BT Sport.
“We are happy to get to the quarterfinals. We didn’t start that well, we were a bit scared to play. But after it went 1-0, we relaxed and decided to play and be aggressive.”