Real Madrid came out on top against Paris Saint-Germain in a scintillating night of football at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg encounter of the Round of 16. Regarded as the biggest tie of the stage this season, the battle also signified all the pre-match talk of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, and which one of the two will come out on top.
In the end it, was the 33-year-old Ronaldo, who not only had the bigger impact, but also walked away with two goals in the 3-1 victory. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s productivity in the bigger European games has been a special feature of his career, and it has seen him win four Champions League titles. In the process, the Portuguese also notched the 100-goal mark for his club in the Champions League.
Besides Ronaldo, another Real legend, Marcelo, got the third goal of the night for the hosts in the closing stages, as they surged ahead after going down 1-0 earlier in the first half with an Adrien Rabiot strike. In a night where, besides the result, both Ronaldo and Neymar came under the microscopic lens given their stature, it was the Portuguese hero that left the pitch satisfied.
Neymar was electric all night for PSG, with most attacks setting out from him, but he missed out on the most important aspect, that was to score. The former Barcelona player, who joined PSG for a world record fee last summer, was bought by the French club to have a say in these kind of matches. But it just wasn’t the night for the Brazilian international.
In the classic match at the Bernabeu, here are the major differences that were witnessed between the two great players:
Neymar has the better start
The Brazilian star started the game much better than Ronaldo, and looked more livelier, finding ways to make an instant impact. He found Yuri Berchiche early on after cutting in from the flank, but the player spurned the shot wide.
From there on, Neymar started finding a lot of space. His stupendous back-heel assist for Rabiot from a Kylian Mbappe cross opened the scoring. In the start of the 2nd half too, he unselfishly teed Mbappe, but custodian Keylor Navas was out to deny the visitors.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo got more chances through the first half, but failed to take them. The veteran forward missed the target twice from inside the area, before shooting straight at goalkeeper Alphonse Areola after being freed by Marcelo’s superb pass.
Ronaldo gets the goals, Neymar doesn’t
The biggest trademark of Ronaldo is his ability to score. Despite missing chances early on, he hit back with a brace. First a well taken penalty, followed by a crucial positioning to eke out a goal from his left thigh after the ball was parried in the air by Areola following a Marco Asensio low cross. Ronaldo’s double has given Real the onus in the tie, with having virtually put one foot into the quarter-finals.
Neymar, meanwhile, had a great chance in the dying moments of injury time, but he shot over the bar instead. The player displayed impressive skills, with some beautiful moments in the tie in each halves. His assist for Rabiot and a backheel kick away from Isco was a sheer example of his artistry. He had a good game, but not getting a goal was costly.
Decision making a vital aspect
Neymar’s indecisiveness to shoot after the first quarter of the first half from a promising position eluded him a great chance. Rather, he waited too long before slipping. His failure to release the final ball at the right moment hurt him.
On the other hand, it was Ronaldo’s wisdom in knowing to be at the right place at the right time for his 2nd goal. The instinct to score with his thighs was special from Ronaldo.
Neymar, being on a yellow card, also made a silly decision to make a dive instead, after knowing he couldn’t get to the ball. The referee’s decision of not awarding him another card saved the blushes. A second card around the half-hour mark would not only have been a disaster on the night, but the player would also have missed the 2nd leg tie.
Real Madrid, 12-time winners of the coveted trophy, know how to get the job done in this competition, and it will be an uphill task for PSG to make a comeback in the 2nd leg tie at the Parc des Princess. And once again, Ronaldo and Neymar will be the hot topic to get their teams past the line.