Cristiano Ronaldo in rarefied air as he joins pantheon of iconic performances

Matt Jones 5/04/2018
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The fans in the stands rose to their feet to acknowledge yet another superb Cristiano Ronaldo goal.

Nothing strange about that, you may think. Except, those rising to their feet and applauding were the partisan Juventus supporters packed inside Allianz Stadium.

The Old Lady faithful had just had their collective hearts ripped out by a footballing Don Juan who has caused many to break throughout his career.

They cheered warmly despite the fact Ronaldo and Real Madrid had realistically, once again, put paid to their Champions League hopes – their dreams of European progress lying in tatters following a devastating 3-0 first-leg loss at home.

Very rare is it for an away player to draw praise from the opposition fans but those draped in black and white proved they know and appreciate a fine footballer when they see one.

Though rare, it is not unprecedented. Here we look at other occasions a sublime individual performance caused home fans to momentarily forget their allegiances.

#1 Ronaldinho at the Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid v Barcelona – La Liga, November 2005)

Who can forget the brilliant Brazilian’s masterclass for Barcelona at the home of their fiercest rivals. Only this time it was the Madrid fans applauding the other side’s player as Ronaldinho ruled El Clasico with a performance of bewitching beauty.

Pulling the Madrid defenders about like rag dolls all evening, Ronaldinho confirmed his status as the greatest player on the planet at the time when he ghosted through the Madrid defence twice to score a brace.

Initially he slalomed past Ivan Helguera and fired wide of Iker Casillas to make it 2-0 before his second and Barca’s third saw him leave a young Sergio Ramos for dead to slot home – the goal bringing the Bernabeu to its feet.

Ronaldinho ripped Real Madrid apart in 2005.

Ronaldinho ripped Real Madrid apart in 2005.

#2 Ronaldo at Old Trafford (Manchester United v Real Madrid – Champions League, April 2003)

The ‘original’ Ronaldo wasn’t bad in his pomp and when Madrid’s Galacticos arrived at Old Trafford in April 2003, the Brazilian striker lived up to his billing by putting on a clinic of world-class finishing.

United earned a morale victory on the night, winning an entertaining game 4-3, but the Red Devils fans clapped rapturously following a devilishly devastating performance from the Brazilian, who scored a stunning hat-trick, when he was substituted.

Ronaldo opened the scoring rifling in at Fabian Barthez’s near post from Guti’s superb pass. He tapped in to make it 2-1 after a superb Madrid move and saved his best for last to rocket in from 25 yards before heading off as Madrid progressed 6-5 on aggregate.

Brazilian Ronaldo was rampant against the Red Devils.

Brazilian Ronaldo was rampant against the Red Devils.

#3 Alessandro Del Piero at the Bernabeu (Real Madrid v Juventus – Champions League, November 2008)

The shoe was on the other foot for Madrid’s fans against the Bianconeri on this occasion, the Los Blancos faithful in concessionary mood when the outstanding Italian forward gave one of the greatest solo performances in history in the group stage of the Champions League.

Juve defeated Madrid 2-0, thanks to a Del Piero masterclass. After scoring two long-range missiles, one with his left, the second a right-footed free-kick, the Italian walked off the pitch to a standing ovation from every corner of the giant stadium, clapping him off as if he were one of their own.

Alessandro Del Piero was at his devastating best for Juve in Madrid.

Alessandro Del Piero was at his devastating best for Juve in Madrid.

#4 Lionel Messi at the Bernabeu (Real Madrid v Barcelona – La Liga, 2009)

Back when Lionel Messi was just a rising star trying to make his way in the game, he showed everyone around the world exactly what to expect in years to come when he shone in a match where the La Liga title was supposed to be on the line, but merciless Barca blitzed their rivals 6-2.

Messi scored twice and had a hand in two others. His brilliant chip played in Thierry Henry to make it 1-1 before he stabbed in for 3-1. It got embarrassing when he scored his second to make it 5-2 before Gerard Pique compounded Madrid’s misery.

It was the first time the Bernabeu had got to its feet for Messi, but it certainly wasn’t the last time he broke their hearts.

Lionel Messi was magical as Barca destroyed Madrid 6-2.

Lionel Messi was magical as Barca destroyed Madrid 6-2.

#5 Alfredo Di Stefano at the Bernabeu (Real Madrid v Millonarios – Friendly, March 1952)

In 1952, during a tournament to celebrate Real Madrid’s 50th anniversary, the Bernabeu faithful got their first glimpse of future club legend Alfredo Di Stefano.

Playing for Colombian outfit Millonarios at the time, Di Stefano put on a stirring display which had the Madridistas standing up and applauding the genius of the Blond Arrow – who fired in two goals in a 4-2 win.

Despite famous foes Barcelona trying to hijack the deal, Di Stefano moved to Real a year later and went on to become one of their – and the world’s – best ever players.

Real legend Alfredo Di Stefano with Diego Maradona.

Real legend Alfredo Di Stefano with Diego Maradona.

#6 Laurie Cunningham at Camp Nou (Barcelona v Real Madrid – La Liga, February 1980)

Laurie Cunningham was the first English player to join Madrid when he completed a move from only slightly less heralded West Bromwich Albion in 1979.

Although his Madrid career was constantly disrupted by injuries, Cunningham left a lasting impression on the Camp Nou crowd during an El Clasico encounter in his debut season in Spain.

The ‘Black Pearl’ put in a shimmering display to help Madrid to a 2-0 win – crossing for Santillana to make it 2-0 – and the Englishman impressed the home fans so much that they all rose in unison as he departed the field.

Laurie Cunningham was the first Englishman to play for Real Madrid.

Laurie Cunningham was the first Englishman to play for Real Madrid.

#7 Diego Maradona at the Bernabeu (Real Madrid v Barcelona – Copa De La Liga, June 1983)

No football fan could fail to be mesmerised by the genius of Diego Maradona. Twenty five years ago, Madrid played host to the bitter rivals, led by the enigmatic Argentine.

After 57 minutes, Barca were already leading 1-0 and El Mago was about to make things worse. The diminutive forward set off on a mazy run and dribbled past goalkeeper Agustin. But instead of putting the ball in the net straight away he stopped and put his foot on the ball, as Madrid defender Juan Jose memorably came sliding in an attempt to block the shot. Jose crashed into the post, before Maradona slotted home.

Madrid fans were stunned and began applauding.

#8 Thierry Henry at the Stadium of Light (Sunderland v Arsenal – Premier League, May 2003)

What was remarkable about this standing ovation was that the Frenchman had managed to outshine Freddie Ljungberg, despite the Swede scoring a hat trick in a 4-0 win.

But while Ljungberg went home with the match ball, Henry stole the headlines – and the Sunderland fans’ hearts – with a sublime exhibition when he was arguably at his very best.

Henry scored and set up all three of his teammates’ strikes and, as Sunderland fans stared into the abyss of relegation, they still found appreciation to acknowledge the brilliance of their opponent.

Thierry Henry congratulates hat-trick hero Freddie Ljungberg.

Thierry Henry congratulates hat-trick hero Freddie Ljungberg.

#9 Steven Gerrard at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea v Liverpool – Premier League, May 2015)

There’s a lot of history between Gerrard and Chelsea. The former England and Liverpool captain was an inch away from joining the Jose Mourinho revolution at Stamford Bridge in 2005 but ultimately decided against it.

Gerrard endeared himself to Blues fans when he slipped to gift Demba Ba a goal and Chelsea victory at Anfield in 2014 as Brendan Rodgers’ men threw away their best shot in years at a league title triumph.

The following season – his final one for his boyhood club – after scoring the Reds’ equaliser in a 1-1 draw, the Reds colossus received a standing ovation by both sets of fans as he left the Stamford Bridge pitch for the final time when substituted late on.

Steven Gerrard receives a standing ovation from Chelsea fans during his last season at Liverpool.

Steven Gerrard receives a standing ovation from Chelsea fans during his last season at Liverpool.

#10 Andres Iniesta at Estadi Cornella-El Prat (Espanyol v Barcelona – La Liga, December 2010)

The lesser known team from Barcelona were losing 5-1 to their illustrious rivals but the entire stadium rose to their feet to applaud Iniesta, as did the home players, when he was subbed off five minutes from time in this game.

This was to do with more than football. A few months earlier in the World Cup final, Iniesta had scored the winner for Spain and unveiled a message to the late Espanyol defender Dani Jarque who had died suddenly the year before.

His emotional send-off at Barca’s arch rivals proved how much his message meant to those fans.

Andres Iniesta is applauded off by Espanyol fans.

Andres Iniesta is applauded off by Espanyol fans.

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Bayern Munich made to work in their 2-1 victory against Sevilla

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Bayern Munich made the most of several slices of good fortune to beat Sevilla and put themselves on course for the Champions League semi-finals.

The German giants fell behind to a Pablo Sarabia strike – the Sevilla forward having earlier missed a gilt-edged opening – but they battled back to earn a 2-1 win thanks to two massively-deflected goals.

The first saw Franck Ribery’s 38th-minute cross go in off Jesus Navas and then Thiago’s second-half header found the back of the net via Sergio Escudero.

Bayern who stepped up through the gears after being second best for the opening 45 minutes, will now fancy their chances of finishing things off in the return meeting at the Allianz Arena, where they have won 21 of their last 22 home Champions League matches.

The two teams came into the match on the back of contrasting fortunes at the weekend.

Sevilla led 2-0 against all-conquering Barcelona – unbeaten in LaLiga for a year – with just two minutes remaining but had to settle for a draw, while Bayern steamrollered arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund 6-0 to take a huge step towards another Bundesliga title.

Sarabia missed the Barca clash through suspension, but he returned to the Sevilla starting line-up and was at the centre of the two main talking points of the opening half-hour.

The first saw him somehow contrive to miss what looked a certain goal in the 20th minute, side-footing wide from 12 yards out with only Sven Ulreich to beat.

The 25-year-old made amends for that miss 12 minutes later, however, when he lashed Sevilla ahead.

The left-footed forward, who moments before had brought a diving parry out of Ulreich with a long-range effort, got ahead of Juan Bernat at the far post to control Escudero’s cross before firing home.

Bernat appealed for handball by the Sevilla man, but the goal stood.

Bayern’s problems appeared to increase soon after when they lost midfield dynamo Arturo Vidal to injury, but within two minutes of his departure Bayern were level – with replacement James Rodriguez involved.

A lightning-quick counter down the right saw the ball passed between Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Rodriguez before arriving at the feet of Ribery on the left of the area.

The Frenchman’s cross was meant to pick out Robert Lewandowski in the middle, but it took a big deflection off Navas and, despite the best efforts of Sevilla goalkeeper David Soria, the ball went in off the near post.

That was tough on the home side, who once again impressed on the big stage after knocking Manchester United out in the previous round.

And they picked up where they left off after the break with Franco Vazquez being denied by a fantastic goal-saving challenge by Javi Martinez.

But Bayern gradually began to awaken from their slumber and, after steadily building up pressure, they almost took the lead in the 66th minute when Martinez was denied by a wonderful save by Soria.

Sevilla were not so fortunate from Bayern’s next attack. Ribery’s floated cross picked out the unmarked Thiago at the far post and his downward header went in via another decisive deflection, this time off Escudero.

Bayern sensed blood and Rodriguez brought a fine diving save out of Soria.

Sevilla made a late charge and Steven N’Zonzi fired just wide before substitute Sandro drew a fine stop out of Ulreich, but Bayern held on for a potentially decisive – if somewhat fortuitous – win.

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'Destiny' wanted me to join LA Galaxy, says Zlatan Ibrahimovic

David Cooper 31/03/2018
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[Photo credit: @LAGalaxy/Twitter]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed that he was ready to join LA Galaxy two years ago before Manchester United came calling.

“This thing was supposed to happen a couple of years before but it didn’t,” Ibrahimovic said at his introductory press conference with the MLS club.

“I am here now. The destiny was that it was supposed to happen, the question was only when.

“[The move] was supposed to happen before Manchester United. My head was here. I wanted to come here.

“Things go like they are not supposed to go, but the destiny said I will come here. Los Angles called and I answered.”

The Swede joined the Galaxy last week after one-and-a-half seasons with United, where he had an impressive record of 29 goals in 53 appearances.

In a typically bombastic press conference, Ibrahimovic backed himself to continue his scoring record in America.

“I have more goals than players have games. I think I know what I am doing,” the 36-year-old said. “I am not arrogant, I am confident.”

Ibrahimovic played down concerns about his age and his ongoing recovery from an ACL injury suffered last season with the Red Devils, which curtailed his playing time towards the end of his spell in England.

“I feel young. I said once before I feel like Benjamin Button,” he said.

“I was born old, now I will die young. Don’t worry about my age.

“When I came to England they all said I was old and I came in a wheelchair.

“After three months I conquered England and they said I was flying. This is only numbers.

“I know what I am able to do and I know what I will do. I come here to win. I feel excited.

“The lion is hungry.”

The new Galaxy recruit declared himself fit for Saturday’s historic first-ever LA derby, against new MLS side LAFC.

“Finally I am here, I am excited and looking forward to playing. I am looking forward to getting on the field.

“I want to smell the grass and touch the ball. Today I finished training and just wanted to shoot some balls.

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