Ronaldo return looms large over Juve's European hopes

Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo training yesterday in Turin before the flight to Amsterdam for the Champions League quarter-final first leg at Ajax. The Portuguese forward may return to first-team action after a spell out with injury.
Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo training yesterday in Turin before the flight to Amsterdam for the Champions League quarter-final first leg at Ajax. The Portuguese forward may return to first-team action after a spell out with injury.PHOTO: DPA

AMSTERDAM • Cristiano Ronaldo's return to fitness could be vital to Juventus' bid to end their 23-year wait for a Champions League trophy as they head to Ajax today with uncertainty over whether the most expensive player in the club's history will play.

The €100 million (S$152.5 million) summer signing from Real Madrid has not played in a month for the Serie A leaders since he scored a second-leg hat-trick to dump Atletico Madrid out in the round of 16.

He was rested in the subsequent 2-0 league defeat at Genoa and then picked up a thigh injury on international duty two weeks ago.

But Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri believes that the Portugal captain will be raring to go ahead of the first leg of the quarter-final, the clubs' first meeting in 16 years.

He said: "He (Ronaldo) always feels ready. We are confident of having him at Ajax on Wednesday.

"In matches of this kind, he gets really excited and enthusiastic. Having him gives us a great advantage."

His confidence also stems from the 34-year-old's return to full-time training on Monday and he boarded the team plane that flew to the Netherlands yesterday.

Teammate Joao Cancelo also told Sky Italia that Ronaldo had "committed himself to do everything possible" to be there and help the team.

The Portugal defender, who confirmed he had shrugged off a calf issue, added: "Cristiano's training, he's a serious professional.

"I really think he'll be called up. We'll see if he plays from the first minute or come on later. The coach will decide. I am fit and ready to play, I will play in Amsterdam."

Ronaldo himself has given no updates on his injury, apart from a short video posted on his social media accounts, looking relaxed while spending time off with his partner Georgina Rodriguez and son.

If the record scorer (124) in the competition can take to the field, it will be a psychological boost for Juventus, who have gone on record saying that they moved for him last July with the sole purpose of ending their barren run in Europe.

Allegri does, however, have other attacking options in Argentina forward Paulo Dybala, Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and Italy forward Federico Bernardeschi.

He also has a trump card in Moise Kean, one of the more exciting players to burst onto the Italian football scene in years. The 19-year-old has taken his chance in Ronaldo's absence with five goals in as many league games for Juventus, who are just one point away from sealing an eighth straight Italian title.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Ronaldo return looms large over Juve's European hopes'. Print Edition | Subscribe