CR7 wins the sideshow
Last updated on 20 April 2017 - 06:58pm
SO, the Old Lady was not for turning. Like the other three semifinalists, she had done the job in the first leg and there was to be no second miracle – only soul-searching misery – for Barcelona who can have no complaints.
The genuine hard luck stories were told by the German clubs, albeit vastly divergent tales. Dortmund's, as documented last week, was about blind terror; Bayern Munich were victims of a blind referee.
Real Madrid and Juventus will be favourites but Monaco and Atletico worthy and popular underdogs, Leicester City having finally relinquished that role, albeit with reputation enhanced.
If this year's Champions League semifinalists were predictable after last week, the fascinating side show – the perpetual battle for bragging rights between the top two individuals – took a surprising turn.
The evidence of this season had suggested that old father time was finally catching up with Cristiano Ronaldo (just turned 32) while Lionel Messi (30 in June) was still a safe distance from its inexorable grip.
On goals alone, the Argentine has a decisive edge with 43 in 41 games against the Portuguese's 26 in 35, and, as La Liga watchers will tell you, they reflect Messi's current superiority.
Hampered by injury, Ronaldo made a late start to the season and, looking generally below par, has produced neither his trademark runs nor his towering headers. His electric pace and gravity-defying leaps appear to have diminished, if not been lost forever.
And with this apparent decline, he has reverted to type, blaming others and inevitably incurring the wrath of those Real fans who seem to think that perfection is their divine right.
And so it was as that Ronaldo sulked through the first half of each leg against a dominant Bayern.
Whistles accompanied his beating of the ground but the sound became rather less shrill when he popped up with no less than five goals over the two games.
Eschewing the wings where he initially made his name, he played like an old-fashioned centre-forward, not doing much but lurking menacingly, until opportunity came.
Then he pounced with all his old aplomb to single-handedly – well, apart from the ref – put Real into yet another semifinal.
His killer instinct was gloriously intact, his reactions instant, his coolness icy. None of the goals will make his best 10 video – or even best 100 – but they turned two games in which Real had been on the receiving end.
They also made you forget the selfishness that saw him shoot rather than cross to a better-placed colleague on more than one occasion and, of course, complete a historic Champions League century with the aplomb of a batsman making a cover drive at Lord's.
So once again, he stole the show and the headlines, yet again rising gloriously roughshod over the catcalls and frustration. And, as he comes to terms with his 30s, you feel this uncanny knack of stealing the moment will be his most priceless asset.
Just as the best strikers possess a sixth sense to be in the right place at the right time, Ronaldo manages it on an industrial scale.
He owed his triumph in the Ballon d'Or last year mostly to his victory in the Euros with Portugal comparing decisively to Messi's repeated failure in finals for Argentina and temporary retirement.
But remember how the Euros started. He was injured and the most memorable thing he did for the first two weeks was chuck a reporter's microphone into a lake.
Then he was injured at the start of the final. It was ignominy at its most excruciating yet he ended the tournament prowling the touchline like Alex Ferguson.
He had also not done much in the Champions League final – until he slotted home the decisive penalty.
To be fair, last season he'd had the edge over Messi for his club, too, bagging 51 goals in 48 games against the Barca man's 41 in one game more.
But this season he has undoubtedly felt the hot breath of age on his neck having been largely anonymous in many games whereas Messi has been, in some good judges' opinions, "better than ever".
Almost entirely free of injury, the little maestro has been the proverbial smoke through the keyhole in La Liga but when it comes to the big occasions, he has not found a way through, notably against Juve and PSG where Neymar was the go-to man.
Given close attention by old-style Italian defenders, he found precious little wriggle room against Juventus and, when he did have chances, he uncharacteristically skewed them off target.
Overall, in their perennial private contest, the majority of observers give the nod to Messi at club level but, as recent events have suggested, Ronaldo may possess the edge once they both enter the twilight years.
As any armchair Freud will tell you, once superstars lose a little of their sparkle, a big ego is preferable to boy-next-door humility – at least when it comes to big games. It will be fascinating to see how Ronaldo performs if he comes up against the Old Lady.