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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo's will to win fueling Real Madrid's resurgence 

The man for the big occasion put PSG to the sword in midweek to continue his prolific start to 2018 that has yielded 15 goals in 11 games ahead of trip to Eibar

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring against Paris Saint-Germain. Yoan Valat / EPA
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring against Paris Saint-Germain. Yoan Valat / EPA

Amid the din in the Parc de Princes, Cristiano Ronaldo was the man to speak as Real Madrid’s players warmed up in a circle before Tuesday’s Uefa Champions League game at Paris Saint-Germain.

“Nil, nil, the match is at nil-nil, eh? We play at home, eh? With personality. Assensio pressing!”

His teammates nodded at their best player. Ronaldo is at his best in the biggest Champions League matches and the game against a PSG side trying to topple Madrid fitted the hype, though Madrid were favourites to advance after a 3-1 first leg win.

Ronaldo has long been brilliant in the big European games. For Manchester United, he scored superb goals away at Roma and Porto in vital knock-out games. Even though he was playing for a team good enough to be European champions, his teammates admitted that he was the game changer. It was those qualities which made Real Madrid pay £80 million (Dh407m) for him – a bargain nine years on and one which hurt his former club when they met in the 2013 Champions League last 16. Ronaldo scored in both legs, including the tie-killer in the second leg at Old Trafford.

Ronaldo has amassed a record 57 goals in the Champions League knockout stages, 19 more than Lionel Messi. He’s been the main man in this Madrid side which has won three of the past four Champions Leagues, excelling on the way to those finals in Lisbon, Milan and Cardiff.

He had scored in every last-16 Champions League tie that he had played in for Madrid, all nine of them, until last season when Madrid played Napoli. Then, he assisted goals home and away. He scored 10 times in six knockout games last season, including twice in the final.

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Nobody has made more than his 33 assists in the Champions League, nobody has bettered his 117 goals, but what matters to seldom-satisfied Madrid fans is what he is doing now. And he is playing a starring role.

Ronaldo, 33, was criticised for his lack of La Liga goals before Spain’s winter break, a shortage which contributed to Madrid falling behind Barcelona, a gap they haven’t come close to bridging. Fifteen points behind their greatest rivals and seven behind neighbours Atletico, Madrid won’t retain their domestic title, but along with Barcelona they are favourites to win the Champions League. At present, Real have a man in better form than anyone on the planet – even Messi.

The New Year has brought a spectacular return to form in the league. The Portuguese has scored 15 goals in 11 games in 2018, the best start to any calendar year in his career. It could have been more if he hadn’t been rested against Espanyol and Leganes, down time designed to preserve him for the Champions League.

Real Madrid's players celebrate after Casemiro scores against Paris Saint Germain in Paris. Etienne Laurent / EPA
Real Madrid's players celebrate after Casemiro scores against Paris Saint Germain in Paris. Etienne Laurent / EPA

Ronaldo has scored in all eight Champions League games so far this season as he aims to inspire his side to an incredible fourth trophy with him in their ranks. This has echoes of the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s – except that today’s team are winning a competition which is far harder to win.

It was Ronaldo’s 51st minute header which killed PSG off on Tuesday, followed up by a deflected Casemiro goal which secured the tie and an emphatic 5-2 aggregate scoreline. And as the cover of Wednesday’s Marca stated, "The champions of Europe put PSG in their place with a lesson in football."

Before his teammates celebrated in the dressing room, captain Sergio Ramos averred that Madrid had “rediscovered the vibes that have brought us so much joy. It’s now a question of keeping it up. We’re happy to have progressed but we haven’t done anything yet.”

From the seething, flare-lit cauldron of Parc de Princes, Madrid hit the road again on Saturday. Eibar will also be inhospitable, but the contrast will be stark, a daylight domestic game in a tiny 7,000-seater stadium, not that that will matter to Ronaldo, who approaches every game with the same will to win.