UCL: Cristiano Ronaldo rescues Manchester United, Barcelona bite the dust versus Benfica
Cristiano Ronaldo removed his Manchester United jersey, flexed his muscular physique and soaked in the acclaim of the fans after his winning goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Not a bad way for the Portugal superstar to mark another record-breaking night in the Champions League.
On his record 178th appearance in the competition, Ronaldo made his most decisive intervention with virtually the last kick of the game at Old Trafford to complete United's dramatic comeback in a 2-1 victory over Villarreal on Wednesday.
After winning a header from a hopeful cross into the area, Ronaldo showed his sprightliness at the age of 36 by then reacting to a loose ball after a touch by substitute Jesse Lingard and shooting underneath Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli from a narrow angle.
We Fought until the end! Unbelievable atmosphere at OT 🔴🤟🏻 #ManchesterUnited #UCL pic.twitter.com/BtfVRCGtoh— Diogo Dalot (@DalotDiogo) September 29, 2021
"It's just what he has done throughout his career," United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
"He is so strong mentally. He stays in the game. I have seen him all day, the way he has worked, built himself up for this game and how focused he has been.
"And when he gets that one chance, it's a goal."
Old Trafford erupted, with sprint great Usain Bolt draped in a red-and-white United scarf among the home supporters celebrating as chants of "Viva Ronaldo" swept around the stadium.
It was Ronaldo's fifth goal in five games since joining from Juventus for a second spell at United, and definitely his most important.
Oh, and make that 136 goals in the Champions League a record, naturally.
That Ronaldo had a quiet game, by his standards, might get overlooked because of his late goal.
"A true mark of a very, very good finisher that he keeps calm when the chance arrives," Solskjaer said.
Barca bite the dust
After yet another demoralising loss, struggling Barcelona face a grim future in the Champions League.
The Catalan club followed its 3-0 opening loss against Bayern Munich with another 3-0 defeat at Benfica. Bottom of the group, Barcelona suddenly see themselves in danger of not reaching the knockout stage for the first time since 2000-01.
"We are in a critical situation," Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets said.
"We have zero points after the first two rounds."
Darwin Nunez scored twice including three minutes into the match and Rafa Silva added another goal at the Stadium of Light to help Benfica end a 60-year winless streak against Barcelona. It was its second victory in eight matches against the Catalan club.
Ronald Koeman: “I feel supported, very supported by my players here at Barcelona. And by the club? I don’t know…”. 🚫 #FCB #Barça pic.twitter.com/QaDUbtouFc— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 29, 2021
Bayern cruised past Dynamo Kyiv in Germany in the other Group E match to reach six points from two matches. Benfica, which had opened with a draw at Dynamo, has four points, three more than Dynamo. Barcelona stayed on zero points ahead of consecutive matches against Dynamo.
"We need to win our next two matches against Dynamo and then we'll see what happens," Busquets said.
"We have to think positively and work to improve many things."
Juventus beat defending champions
Italy forwards Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi ran consistently through the heart of Chelsea's defense, Romelu Lukaku was held in check, and Juventus convincingly beat the injury-depleted trophy defenders 1-0 in the Champions League.
Ten seconds into the second half on Wednesday, Chiesa sprinted onto a through ball from Bernardeschi and beat defender Antonio Rudiger to score from a difficult angle.
"It should be impossible to concede an easy goal like this at this level in the first seconds of the second half," Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel said.
"You know what's coming, you have defensive organization like we have, so normally at all times it should be possible to defend it. And we got punished for it, of course."
Strength and power. We are one! 🔥⚪️⚫️ #ForzaJuve pic.twitter.com/389TkvUxXR— Federico Bernardeschi (@fbernardeschi) September 29, 2021
Bernardeschi nearly made it 2-0 when he tripped just as he was about to redirect a cross from Juan Cuadrado.
"We showed the real Juve spirit," Chiesa said.
"We tried to attack deep and into the open spaces."
It wasn't until the 75th minute that a decent cross found its way to Lukaku, who Chelsea bought for a club record 135 million in August. But the Belgium striker's ensuing header went well wide.
Lukaku had a close chance in the 83rd but again missed the target.
Juventus took control of Group H with a full six points. Chelsea and Zenit St. Petersburg have three points each and Malmo has zero.
(With AP inputs)