Ron shows his class once more

Real's star forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating his hat-trick with defender Pepe during their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Wolfsburg in Madrid. The 10-time European champions squeezed through 3-2 on aggregate, as the crucial aw
Real's star forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating his hat-trick with defender Pepe during their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Wolfsburg in Madrid. The 10-time European champions squeezed through 3-2 on aggregate, as the crucial away goal which could have swung the tie for the Germans never came.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

His hat-trick saves Real's blushes against Wolfsburg, showing he always thrives in desperate times

MADRID • The spotlight tends only to catch Cristiano Ronaldo's good side. When Real Madrid are under the most intense scrutiny, when the eyes of the world fall on the Bernabeu, he does not wilt or fade. He flourishes.

On the night when their season might have ended, when all could have turned to recrimination and regret, Ronaldo staged a one-man rescue act.

His hat-trick in a 3-0 win, taking his tournament total to 16, ensured Zinedine Zidane's side overturned the two-goal head start they had given Wolfsburg in Germany last week, ensuring their presence in a fifth consecutive semi-final, keeping the dream of the undecima - an unprecedented 11th European Cup - alive for at least a few weeks more.

More than that, it showcased once more that there is, perhaps, no player happier when the heat is on.

So fevered was the atmosphere surrounding this game that Zidane had spent much of the past week trying to preach the virtues of calm.

The Frenchman, of course, knows more than most what happens when the blood boils - few are quite so well-equipped as him to advise caution against losing your head. He asked his team to play with their "brains", not to grow impatient. He told them that they would not "win the game in the first 10 or 15 minutes".

  • MOST CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GOALS (SEASON)

  • 2013-14: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 17

    2015-16: Ronaldo (Real) 16

    2011-12: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 14

    2012-13: Ronaldo (Real) 12

    2011-12: Mario Gomez (Bayern) 12

    2010-11: Messi (Barca) 12

    2002-03: Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man United) 12

He was right. Just. It took Real 16 minutes of frenzied huffing and puffing to blow Wolfsburg's house down and a minute after that, they had wiped out the German side's advantage from the first leg. Ronaldo, of course, scored both.

This is the campaign in which he is supposed to have started to fade. The Portuguese is not ready for his pension just yet.

Ronaldo has always thrived on these occasions. He is at his best when he is front and centre, milking the adulation of the crowd. He celebrated his first, a close-range header from Dani Carvajal's cross, by glancing up at the big screen high on the roof of the Bernabeu, not enough for him to be in the moment, desperate to see himself as others see him, as the conquering hero.

It seemed to spur him on. Real won the ball back straight from the kick-off and launched yet another attack, Ronaldo only denied by a last-gasp clearing header from Vieirinha, his international team-mate. The stay of execution was brief. Luka Modric swept in the corner, Ronaldo leapt with grace and elegance and glanced a header into Diego Benaglio's bottom-left corner. He beamed as the flashbulbs blazed.

To their credit, Wolfsburg did not crumble. Dieter Hecking's side might be mid-table in the Bundesliga, but they methodically picked their way back into the game. But they must have known, though, that eventually Real's class would tell, and their chances came in a trickle throughout the second half.

However, with every missed opportunity, the tension mounted. One mistake, one moment of wonder, would put Real out. The Bernabeu grew quiet, troubled. And then Ronaldo, their panacea, stepped up again, deftly curling a free kick beyond Benaglio's reach, sending the stadium into near delirium.

Wolfsburg had a chance to the last: all they needed was one attack, one lucky bounce, and they would have claimed arguably the most famous scalp in their history.

It was not to be.

Ronaldo has now scored at least 45 goals in each of his last six seasons for Madrid.

"Considering this has been a bad season for me it has not been that bad," he said after taking his tally for the season in all competitions to 46. "People can criticise me, but I just keep on going and the numbers are there for all to see."

Zidane had only praises for his star forward, adding: "He showed what he is, which is the best player in the world."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Ron shows his class once more'. Print Edition | Subscribe