The Champions League semi-finals kicked off with a local derby between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, and once again Cristiano Ronaldo made all the difference.
Real Madrid has one football boot planted firmly in the grass of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff after destroying local rivals Atletico in one of the most one-sided Champions League Semi-Finals you are likely to witness.
The champions sucked the roar right out of the usually tigerish Atletico, only allowing them 38% possession. While at the other end, Cristiano Ronaldo, did what Cristiano Ronaldo does best.
No team has ever retained the Champions League since it underwent a makeover in 1992, but Real is the -140 favourite to do that after this utterly convincing win.
Atletico will be sick of the sight of their noisy neighbours. No side has ever overturned a three-goal first leg deficit to emerge from the Semi-Finals, and I can’t see Atletico being the first. If history repeats itself, then Real would have beaten Atletico in the latter stages of this grand competition for four successive seasons, including twice in the final.
Real started feverishly and should have taken the lead as early as the seventh minute when Karim Benzema missed from close range after some great work from Dani Carvajal down the right.
Three minutes later, and the ball was in the back of the Atletico net, and who else but Ronaldo, leaping in the six-yard box to head home a cross from Casemiro.
Ronaldo nearly made it two in the 19th minute when he got on the end of a Toni Kroos corner, but Jan Oblak expertly saved his header at the far post.
For the longest time, it looked like Real’s dominance wouldn’t be translated into goals. Then in the 73rd minute, the ball ricocheted to Ronaldo, just inside the box, and the Real star hit the ball into the back of the net on the half-volley.
And then in the 86th minute, Lucas Vazquez, produced a mazy dribble down the left, cut it back for Ronaldo, and the Portuguese striker scored his easiest goal of the night.
It was Ronaldo’s second successive Champions League hat-trick after the annihilation of Bayern Munich. He joins Lionel Messi at the top of the Champions League Hat-Trick charts with seven, and extends his All-Time Champions League Goal Scoring record to 103, three more than Atletico has scored in their history.
Zinedine Zidane’s side is now on course to win the La Liga and Champions League double. They sit behind Barcelona on goal difference with a game in hand and very few banana skins in their final four games. If they succeed, it will be their first domestic league title in five years.
The final of the Champions League is at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff on 3 June.
Champions League Winning Odds
Real Madrid -140
Atletico Madrid +4000