Paris, France | AFP | As the stakes mounted in the Champions League, the usual suspects once more rose to the occasion with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski starring in the last 16, first legs.
Season after season, these preeminent performers deliver on the biggest stages and administer severe punishment to striving title contenders — including Neymar’s aspiring Paris Saint-Germain.
A Ronaldo double propelled holders Real to a 3-1 advantage over PSG in Spain, while Messi grabbed a vital away goal for Barcelona in a 1-1 draw at Premier League champions Chelsea.
Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller also scored twice apiece as Bayern Munich demolished knockout stage debutants Besiktas 5-0.
But it came as no surprise to Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who warned PSG repeatedly of the danger posed by Ronaldo in the weeks leading up to the encounter.
“Careful with Cristiano,” was Zidane’s refrain, and Ronaldo, the five-time world player of the year, didn’t disappoint as he increased his record Champions League goals haul to 116, 11 of which have come this season.
“Cristiano has shown once again in the big matches that you must still count on him,” Zidane said.
As for Messi, he further enhanced his untouchable legacy with a first goal in nine games against Chelsea. At 30, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is also closing in on the 100-goal mark, presently two shy at 98 in Europe’s premier club competition.
Spanish media highlighted the parallels between Andres Iniesta’s stunning injury-time winner against the Blues in the 2009 semi-finals, the result of a Messi assist, and the Argentine’s goal on Tuesday that was created by the Spain star.
“They don’t miss. It’s a magical duo. It’s lasted more than a decade and (Tuesday) they conjured up a goal which could lead to their qualification,” Santi Nolla gushed in Catalan daily Mundo Deportivo.