Cristiano Ronaldo wrote his name into European soccer's record books on Tuesday as he spearheaded Real Madrid to a stunning demolition of Bayern Munich that clinched a spot in the Champions League final.
Already leading 1-0 from the first leg of this home-and-home series, Real tore apart the defending champions with three first-half goals that silenced the Allianz Arena and a cheeky late Ronaldo free kick to add insult to injury.
After defender Sergio Ramos hit the net twice, Ronaldo chimed in with the third – a goal that created a slice of history. The finish was simple, he merely had to tap the ball into the net after a strong run and perfect pass from Gareth Bale, but the achievement was mightily impressive.
The strike took Ronaldo to 15 goals in this season's Champions League, collected over the course of 10 games, surpassing the previous best single-campaign mark of 14 set by AC Milan's Jose Altalfini in the 1962-63 European Cup and equaled by Lionel Messi two years ago.
Ronaldo responded in typical flashy fashion, wheeling away and flipping his hands backward and forward to signify the number 15. Flashy or not, love him or hate him, Ronaldo enjoys personal accolades as much as anyone, especially when they come at Messi's expense, and he has plenty of them.
All told this was Ronaldo's 50th Champions League goal in 50 games in the competition. Going into the World Cup this summer, there is little question that, on current form, he is the most dominant player on the planet.
With just a minute left in the game, he collected another goal, smacking a low free kick underneath the jumping Bayern defensive wall to round off one of the most remarkable displays in recent tournament memory.
Yet neither the season, nor perhaps Ronaldo's entire stay at Real, will be complete unless the job is finished and the "decima" – what would be the club's 10th triumph in Europe's top competition – is won.
Real Madrid won the first five European Cups from 1956 to 1960 but has not tasted success since 2002. Without a doubt, Ronaldo moved to Spain to win Real's 10th and was purchased from Manchester United for that very purpose.
However, the trophy has proved elusive and May 24 will feature his first trip to the final since 2009, when his final game for Manchester United ended with a defeat to Messi's Barcelona, a year after claiming the trophy for the only time in his career. With this year's final to be staged in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, there could be no more appropriate setting for Ronaldo.
Either way, Real will be a strong favorite after this domination of a Bayern side that destroyed the Champions League field a year ago. Ramos got his head to well-orchestrated set pieces after 16 and 20 minutes to leave Bayern with a virtually impossible task, and a comeback became even more unlikely when Ronaldo connected with Bale after 34 minutes. By the time he put an exclamation point on the performance late, Bayern had already been battered into submission.
And now there will be an incredibly intriguing final, no matter what happens in Wednesday's second semifinal. Either Atletico Madrid will prevail to set up an extraordinary showdown between two teams from the same city and a matchup of Galacticos vs. relative paupers. Or it will be Chelsea and a certain Jose Mourinho, the man who was in charge of Madrid up until the end of last season and his acrimonious departure.
Mourinho has attracted much ire over the past few days for the manner in which Chelsea secured victory at Liverpool on Sunday and kept themselves in contention to win the English Premier League. His tactics have been derided as ultra-defensive, known as "parking the bus" by walled flanks of defenders. Yet Mourinho is a proven winner and he would love nothing more than to prevail against the club he parted with on poor terms.
Such a matchup would prompt discussion on tactical philosophy. No doubt, the Madrid method is more pleasing to the eye. Carlo Ancelotti did not throw caution to the wind in Munich, but mixed tenacious defending with lightning-quick, rapier-sharp attacking bursts for which the Germans had no answer.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Ronaldo to call upon. He is right now the best in the business and is in full flow, and he has more accolades firmly in his sight.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Real Madrid
- Bayern Munich
- Champions League
- Lionel Messi