Here’s what happened in Wednesday’s marquee tilt between AS Roma and Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League…
WHAT STOOD OUT
Ronaldo unbelievably scores away from home!
You’ll note the sarcastic use of the world unbelievably. Cristiano Ronaldo has come in for a fair share of criticism during his career for a variety of transgressions, both real and imagined. But what happened this week was especially comical, as a number of Spanish media organizations conjured a controversy out of nothing, pointing out that Ronaldo hadn’t scored away from home since Nov. 29—and that came when he scored a penalty against Eibar.
What’s going on? Why aren’t you scoring on the road? Have you lost your touch away from the Santiago Bernabeu? This was the absurd line of questioning that Ronaldo had to deal with in the buildup to Wednesday’s game. The day before the game, during a press conference in Rome, he was again asked about it by a Spanish reporter. He sneered and gave a polite answer (that was, nevertheless, full of contempt) and stormed out of the room. To watch the video, CLICK HERE.
This is what it’s come to: trolling one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of the sport about going through a small stretch of matches without scoring on the road. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that Ronaldo has not only scored more away goals in the Champions League this season, but he’s also scored more than any other player in the history of the competition.
The sort of criticism that Ronaldo has endured this week is beyond silly, and he answered back the best way he could, by scoring a cracker of an opening goal for Real on Wednesday. After being completely marked out of the game in the opening half, Ronaldo expertly created some space for himself on the left flank and turned Roma fullback Alessandro Florenzi before curling a shot into the far corner. It took a fortuitous deflection off Florenzi, but even without it, it still would have beaten Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. It was a strike worthy of being in Ronaldo’s extensive resume of highlight-reel goals and of winning a crucial road tie in the Champions League.
Roma deserved a penalty, but…
Real’s win was without a bit of controversy, as Roma were denied a stonewall penalty when defender Dani Carvajal dived in and wiped out Alessandro Florenzi in the process. Czech referee Pavel Královec wasn’t interested and waived play on. Minutes later, substitute Jese scored to make it 2-0 and seal the win for Real.
There’s no question that Královec’s decision not to award Roma a penalty was a game-changing moment. Had he pointed to the spot, Roma could have equalized and managed to head to Spain with a chance of advancing to the quarterfinals. At 2-0 down, though, it’s highly unlikely the Italians will be able to come back and overturn Real in the Santiago Bernabeu. So, Roma can feel aggrieved with regards to Královec’s non-decision.
However, the Italians can’t have any complaints about the final result. Real was the better side on the evening, matching Roma’s organizational skills and defensive stoutness. Unlike the hosts, though, Real were far more dangerous in transition and when in possession, and displayed more of a cutting edge in the final third. By contrast, Roma looked bereft of ideas when they neared Real’s penalty area, with Mohamed Salah looking especially one-footed and displaying poor decision-making. This was a game of few chances, but Real made the most of theirs while Roma created next to nothing.
MORE ON THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Window closing on PSG's old guard in Europe || Photo gallery: 10 to watch in Champions League || Photo gallery: Round of 16 matchups || Molinaro: Barca team to beat in Champions League || Sportsnet panel: Champions League picks and predictions || Does Zidane have the nous to manage Real Madrid? || Cometh the hour, cometh Cavani for PSG || Analytics: Europa League vs. Champions League
It really wasn’t a save per se, but Real goalkeeper did exceptionally well in the 55th minute to to race out and beat Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy to the ball inside the box and clip it away with his leg.
Real Madrid’s grey jerseys didn’t meet with universal approval:
SIX PACK OF STATS
• The last time Real Madrid failed to record a shot on target at half-time in the Champions League was in May 2011 against Barcelona
• Cristiano Ronaldo has scored five away goals in the Champions League this season, more than any other player.
• Jesé is the 68th different player to score in the Champions League for Real Madrid. Only Barcelona (72) have had more.
• Real Madrid have won more away games (four) in the Champions League against Roma than any other side in the competition.
• Ronaldo has scored 44 away goals in the Champions League, at least nine more than any other player (Lionel Messi has 35).
• Real Madrid have kept 13 clean sheets in their last 17 Champions League games.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Raphael Varane: The French centre back was fantastic on the night, making a number of timely interceptions and interventions, and marshaling a defence that gave away very little.
2) Cristiano Ronaldo: He had a quiet first half, but showed much more life after the re-start, and he scored that marvelous winner.
3) Alessandro Florenzi: He was culpable on Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal, but before that he did a great job in cohesion with his teammates of neutralizing the Portuguese.
Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA's Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.