Ronaldo thwarts epic Juventus comeback to lead Real Madrid into CL semis

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Ronaldo thwarts epic Juventus comeback to lead Real Madrid into CL semis

Madrid, April 12 (IANS) Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo converted a controversially-awarded penalty in injury time here to quell Juventus’ stunning comeback as the defending champions lost 1-3 in the second leg but won the Champions League quarter-final tie 4-3 on aggregate.

The joy of the Real Madrid faithful at the Santiago Bernabeu was mixed with relief after seeing the hosts blow a 3-0 advantage from the first leg on Wednesday, reports Efe.

Juventus’ defender Medhi Benatia appeared to have touched ball as Lucas Vazquez was brought down inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. An enraged Juventus legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon protested the decision of the referee, earning a red card.

The crowd at the Bernabeu stadium, perhaps remembering the ovation Juventus fans gave Ronaldo after his spectacular bicycle kick goal in the first leg, cheered the Italian veteran as he walked off the pitch.

With substitute keeper Wojciech Szczesny on the goal line, Ronaldo sent a blast into the top corner to win the tie for Real Madrid with his 15th goal of the current Champions League campaign.

At the beginning of the second leg, virtually nobody thought Juventus had a chance of overcoming that deficit against a Real Madrid side in pursuit of their third consecutive Champions League crown.

But Juventus, inspired by AS Roma’s giant-killing performance on Tuesday to eliminate Barcelona from the competition, were determined not to go quietly.

Unsettled on the backline due to the absence of the suspended Sergio Ramos, the Blancos conceded a goal in the second minute when Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic fired home on a cross from Sami Khedira.

The visitors would have a second three minutes later if Gonzalo Higuain hadn’t wasted a golden opportunity in front of the net, much as he did in last season’s Champions League final between the same two clubs.

Real Madrid regrouped and began to get chances, but 40-year-old keeper Gianluigi Buffon stopped efforts by Isco Alarcon — twice — and Gareth Bale.

Just as the Blancos began to feel more comfortable, Mandzukic struck again, beating keeper Keylor Navas with a header to bring Juventus within one goal on aggregate.

The closest Real Madrid came to scoring in the first half was a shot in the final seconds by Rafael Varane that hit the cross-bar.

Blancos coach Zinedane Zidane started the second half with a double-substitution, replacing Bale with Lucas Vazquez and opting for Marco Asensio over Casemiro.

While the changes resulted in more possession for the hosts, the Bernabeu remained on edge and the apprehension was borne out at the hour mark, as a Navas blunder set up Blaise Matuidi to level the aggregate score at 3-3.

The home side continued to struggle on offense and when they did breach the Bianconeri wall, Buffon was always there to dispel the danger, making an outstanding stop against Ronaldo.

The match looked destined for extra time until the referee’s penalty decision. The entire Juventus squad argued with the referee, feeling let down by a dubious decision.

Ronaldo set another new record, becoming the first to score in 11 straight Champions League matches.

“I am happy and we are in the semi-finals. For the penalty, my heart was beating hard, but I tried to stay calm. I knew it would be a decisive penalty, thank God I scored and we went through,” Ronaldo told Real Madrid’s website.

Juventus chief coach Massimiliano Allegri bemoaned the absence of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) which could have given the right decision.

“There was no VAR tonight. We’ve lost — there’s not much more to add. The penalty tonight was a similar incident to the one involving [Juan] Cuadrado in the first leg. There was a lot of confusion,” he was quoted as saying by Juventus’ website.

“We’re left with a bitter taste after coming within reach of extra time and being able to really go for it. I would have had two substitutes to work with — I’d held those back to change the game. That said, over the course of the two legs, I think both teams deserved to go through.

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