MILAN (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Spain ready to bury the demons of his nightmare Champions League debut for Juventus tomorrow (4am Brunei time) against one of his favourite victims Atletico Madrid.
The former Real Madrid player was sent off after 28 minutes in his first European game for Juventus in Spain last September against Valencia but the Italians went on to win 2-0 even without the Portuguese star.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus play their Champions League last 16, first-leg tie against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano midweek as they continue their push for the European title which has eluded them for over two decades.
Juventus are pinning their hopes on their 100-million-euro summer signing to give them a first European win over Atletico, a team against whom the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has a long history.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for the 34-year-old Ronaldo who lived a stone’s throw away from Atletico’s training centre.
Juventus signed Ronaldo because of his Champions League credentials.
No other player owns as many Champions League titles as Ronaldo who has won five, four with Real Madrid and one with Manchester United.
He has scored a record 121 goals in the competition and of these 57 have proved decisive.
Crashing out in the last 16 would be unthinkable for two clubs that were among the favourites when the draw for the knock-out stages was made in December.
“Those that have ambition are not afraid,” Allegri said.
“We have to score at least one goal in Madrid, our qualification depends on this,” warned Allegri. “The two teams are evenly balanced.”
Juventus and Atletico Madrid have reached 12 European Cup finals between them, with last season’s game in Kiev the first in five years in which neither had featured.
Atletico went on to win the Europa League instead, proving themselves too strong for Europe’s second-tier competition, while Juventus were dumped out by eventual winners Real Madrid, undone by a controversial Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in the 98th minute.
It was Ronaldo’s 10th goal in seven games against Juventus, having scored twice in the first leg and twice in the final in 2017 too. Juve beat Real in the semi-finals two years earlier but even then, Ronaldo managed a goal in each leg.
Ronaldo has played the lead role in all of his five previous European triumphs – from his towering header for United against Chelsea in 2008 to the tie-clinching, 97th-minute penalty against Juventus last season in the quarters.
It was to become the beneficiaries, rather than victims, of these match-winning moments, that Juve decided the only way to win the Champions League before Ronaldo retires is to have him on their team.
There was understandable relief, as well as joy, when the Portuguese switched sides last summer and now, there is belief.
As Lionel Messi said, “They already had a good team and now they have Cristiano Ronaldo.”