BAYARENA (Leverkusen) – Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain both started and scored for Juventus as they rounded out their Champions League group stage campaign with a 2-0 victory, their fifth in a row in the competition, and finished the first stage of the tournament with a total of 16 points.
Already guaranteed to finish top of Group D, all that was on the line for the Bianconeri was pride and the opportunity to boost the Portuguese forward’s Champions League goals tally, which he duly did in the second half by finishing off a Paulo Dybala cross for the game’s first goal, before the substitute also assisted his countryman Higuain.
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The match started off slowly, with the only excitement of the opening minutes coming through the radio waves as mutters of panic rumbled around the BayArena as Atletico Madrid were awarded an early penalty in Spain, followed by a low hum of cheers as the German side – who needed a favour from Lokomotiv Moscow – celebrated the news of the miss.
After a couple of off-target efforts from Moussa Diaby and Kerem Demirbay, the game livened up just after the 10th tick of the clock as Higuain almost squared perfectly for Ronaldo when he was through one on one and as Diaby shook the woodwork with a strike from distance at the other end.
Diaby was a constant menace on the German side’s left flank and his balls into the box caused a few moments of panic in the Merih Demiral and Daniele Rugani partnership, with the two defenders playing together at the back for the first ever time.
Demiral and Rugani improved as the game went on and so did Juventus in general, with Juan Cuadrado firing just wide from distance, with Ronaldo getting just too much of an angle on a shot across goal, with Higuain blasting an effort over the bar from inside the area and with Mattia De Sciglio reaching the byline on a couple of occasions, only for the final ball to be blocked.
This wasn’t good news for Bayer Leverkusen, nor was the fact that Atletico Madrid had won another penalty and scored it through Joao Felix, but they did have one quality chance in the final minute of the first half as Adrien Rabiot slipped, allowing Kai Havertz to receive the ball inside the area, where he was met by Demiral to ensure the scoreboard read 0-0 at the half.
After the pass through the dressing rooms, Ronaldo was the main man of the second half’s first five minutes, as he had an offside goal, an offside shot and a mini rant at Federico Bernardeschi, who had had stayed onside, for failing to cross to the unmarked No.7 at the back post.
With nothing much to cheer about as the play grew stale, the Juventus fans in the corner let up a cheer for Atletico Madrid’s second goal, winding up the home crowd as they faced the reality of Europe League football.
The visiting support were also pleased to see Dybala brought on to liven things and the Argentine got a shot away just minutes after coming on, but snatched at it and it trickled harmlessly wide.
Dybala then brought about the opening goal in the 75th minute as he stayed onside and latched onto a pass from Miralem Pjanic down the right flank, before squaring it for Ronaldo to walk in his 128th Champions League goal, the treasure he’d come to the BayArena for.
Dybala then combined beautifully with Higuain for another Juventus goal in stoppage time, a goal that sent the Juventus fans wild, although perhaps too wild as Ronaldo was approached by three separate pitch invaders.
Maurizio Sarri, though, can go home content as he saw his side win, his forwards click and none of his players injured or booked.