Uefa Champions League

Ronaldo hat trick lifts Madrid over Atletico and onto cusp of Champions League final

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 6:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 6:52am

Another impressive performance by Cristiano Ronaldo has left Real Madrid on the verge of another Champions League final.

Ronaldo scored a hat trick to lead Madrid to a commanding 3-0 win over city rival Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday. He scored with a header in the 10th minute, with a strike into the top corner in the 73rd and a close-range shot in the 86th to give the defending champions a comfortable lead going into next week’s second leg at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium.

Monaco hosts Juventus in the first leg of the other semi-final on Wednesday.

“We played a great match,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “It’s not easy to score three times against such a difficult opponent and keep a clean sheet.”

The result left Atletico close to yet another disappointing elimination against the cross town rival, following defeats in the Champions League in the last three seasons.

“We’re going to try and do something practically impossible next week,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “We’re Atletico Madrid and maybe, just maybe, we can do it.”

Madrid, which is looking to reach its third final in four seasons, was in control from the start at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and took advantage of Ronaldo’s impressive form. He had scored five in the two legs of the quarterfinals against Bayern Munich, including a hat trick in the second leg at the Bernabeu.

He opened the scoring on Tuesday after Atletico’s defence failed to fully clear a cross into the area. Midfielder Casemiro sent the ball back in with a bouncing shot and Ronaldo got ahead of defender Stefan Savic to nod it past Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Ronaldo added to the lead after Atletico defender Filipe Luis lost the ball in a challenge with the Portugal star, who entered the area and fired a right-foot shot past Oblak into the upper corner.

He scored his 10th Champions League goal of the season with a low shot from inside the area after a pass by Lucas Vazquez. Ronaldo now has 103 goals in the Champions League, not counting one he scored in the qualifiers, which is three more than Atletico has scored since the new format was created in 1992.

Madrid dominated early on, controlling possession and causing problems for Atletico’s defence with set pieces taken by midfielder Toni Kroos. Madrid had 11 attempts against only one for Atletico in the first half alone. It ended with 16 against four for Atletico.

“Our first 30 minutes were fantastic, we started with great intensity,” Zidane said. “And in the second half we were very effective. We didn’t have as many chances, but we still scored twice.”

The visitors improved in the second half, keeping Madrid from threatening as much, but they still were not able to create many scoring chances and will go into the second leg without having scored any away goals.

“We had the ball in the second half but didn’t create anything and they exploited the spaces well,” Simeone said.

Atletico’s best chance of the match came in the 17th minute, when forward Kevin Gameiro received the ball inside the area but wasn’t able to clear Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas in a one-on-one situation.

The cross town rivals are meeting for the fourth consecutive time in the top European club competition. Madrid defeated Atletico in the final last season and also in 2014, and eliminated Simeone’s team in the quarterfinal in 2015.

Madrid, which won its record 11th-title last year, is trying to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles since the competition’s new format began. No team has had a chance to defend its title since Manchester United in 2009.

Atletico, the third force in Spanish soccer behind Madrid and Barcelona, is trying to win its first title and avenge the heartbreaking losses to Madrid in a penalty shoot-out last year and after extra time in 2014. Atletico also lost the final in 1974, to Bayern Munich.

Tuesday’s loss at the Bernabeu was the first for Atletico in 16 away games. Simeone’s team had kept nine clean sheets in its last 13 games in all competitions, conceding only four goals.