Ronaldo gamble eventually pays off for Madrid


Two years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo stripped off his shirt to celebrate the last goal, a penalty, in Real Madrid's 4-1 extra-time win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final.

The Portuguese was widely criticised for a blatant bout of self-preening, and for using what should have been a glorious moment for the club to boost his own media image.

Two years later, on a sultry evening at Milan's San Siro, Ronaldo recaptured that pose, having converted the winning spot-kick as Madrid prevailed 5-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.

That final, glorious moment will, for all Madrid fans, justify Zinedine Zidane's gamble that, for large parts of this enthralling contest, did not look like it was going to pay off.

Ronaldo came into Saturday's meeting needing two goals to beat his record of 16 for a Champions League season, achieved in the triumphant 2013-14 campaign.

But the Portuguese looked a shadow of his usual self and a shell of the man who had posed, Adonis-like, in Lisbon in 2014.

Most of the talk in the build-up to this clash between the capital clubs had centred around Ronaldo's fitness. He had left training early on Tuesday with a knock to his left thigh, but later insisted it was nothing.

In a media conference on Friday, Zidane stated Ronaldo was "100 per cent" fit. But on this evidence, that was far from the case.

Ronaldo looked out of sorts and certainly lacking in sharpness. His usual unerring accuracy also deserted him, firing straight at Jan Oblak with a free shot at goal from 20 yards midway through the second period with his side still leading 1-0 from Sergio Ramos' early opener.

In the first period of extra time - forced by Yannick Carrasco's deserved equaliser - Ronaldo made poor contact with a free header inside the six yard box, which allowed Oblak to make a comfortable save.

During Friday's training, Ronaldo had practised half a dozen free-kicks without success and another one in the second half of extra time cannoned harmlessly into the wall.

And so, to penalties.

After seven successful kicks, Atletico right-back Juanfran struck the base of the left-hand upright with his.

And so it was left to Ronaldo to stride forward, puff out his cheeks, and send the ball into the right corner as Madrid celebrated an 11th European Cup triumph.

Sunday's newspapers will be full of the image of Ronaldo, shirt off, in triumph in front of the Madrid fans.

But for the width of a post, it could have been a very different story.

Atletico could have been celebrating a maiden European Cup win, and Madrid could have been left to rue a gamble that backfired.