Champions League Betting: Can Cristiano Ronaldo save his - and Juventus' - season?
The Portuguese superstar was brought to Italy to capture the Champions League. He will need to produce a night for the ages to keep the dream alive, writes Andy Brassell.
"The moments in which Ronaldo has responded when required have only augmented in recent years, from his stunning hat-trick against Sweden in 2013 to take Portugal to the following year’s World Cup, to his late, late penalty for Real Madrid to eliminate Juve in the dying seconds of last year’s quarter-final."
Finally, after all the brouhaha, the mountain of sold replica shirts, the continued torrent of goals and the grins to camera, it all comes down to this. One night in Turin.
For all the commercial benefits that Cristiano Ronaldo brings, he was brought to Juventus to bring the Champions League back to Piedmont for the first time in more than two decades, and this week, he must fight to keep that possibility alive.
Atlético Madrid, while enjoying wild success of their own during the Diego Simeone era, have largely modelled themselves as the ultimate wet blanket on gala nights like this. Massimiliano Allegri - who famously and openly cares more for the destination than the manner of the journey - will be more aware than most of the Spanish side's canniness, and of the huge task his players face in turning around a two-goal deficit from the first leg, three weeks ago.
Atlético relish the struggle
Juventus are strong favourites to win on the night at [1.76] with Atlético [5.8] - but Simeone's team are considered more likely to qualify at [1.3] to Juve's [4.1].
It's easy to see why Atleti would inspire such confidence. There is almost certainly not a team in world football which relishes defending for its life like they do.
The very essence of Cholismo - the cult of Simeone - is to embrace the struggle, something which the coach has frequently touched on in past rhetoric. Atleti are not only comfortable defending a lead. They are comfortable defending it from within their own 18-yard box. How many teams could have survived the battering that Atleti took in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final at Bayern Munich in 2016?
Formidable home record
Just what is being asked of Juve, without so much as an away goal to build on, is clear. They have three main points in their favour, however.
Firstly, it is inconceivable that they can play as badly as they did during the first leg in Madrid. Secondly, there's their imposing record at Allianz Stadium. Since moving in seven-and-a-half years ago, they've only been beaten ten times. They've kept 87 clean sheets there in that time. Another on Tuesday is surely a must if they are to carry on in the competition.
Thirdly, and most presciently, there's Ronaldo. More than perhaps the best penalty area operator in living memory, he's a player built for the pressure occasion. The moments in which he has responded when required have only augmented in recent years, from his stunning hat-trick against Sweden in 2013 to take Portugal to the following year's World Cup to his one-man show for Real Madrid in the home strait of the 2016-17 Champions League and even his late, late penalty to eliminate Juve in the dying seconds of last year's quarter-final.
Ronaldo fresh from rest
Some will fret that he already has more minutes in the tank than at comparable stages in recent seasons - and load management is an issue with Ronaldo, as it is with any sportsman of his age. He wasn't decisive in last year's semi-finals or final for El Real.
Maybe that's the silver lining in facing opponents are difficult as Atleti at such a relatively early stage of the competition. It was no surprise to see Ronaldo get a rare rest in the 4-1 win over Udinese on Friday night. He'll need every last drop of energy to do the necessary this week. It's going to take a gargantuan effort to shift Simeone and company but if anyone can, it's Juve - and Ronaldo. He's currently [2.0] to score, [4.6] to score a brace or more and [13.5] to hit a hat-trick.