BARCELONA • When the Champions League draw put Barcelona and Juventus in the same group, football fans relished the prospect of watching Lionel Messi face Cristiano Ronaldo again.
The two had not played against each other since Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018.
The two men were denied a reunion in Turin in October, as Ronaldo missed Barca’s 2-0 victory after testing positive for Covid-19.
So all eyes were on the duo on Tuesday, with Ronaldo healthy again and raring to go, and it was the Portuguese forward who came out on top as Juve triumphed 3-0 to claim first place in Group G.
A constant thorn in the Catalans’ flesh while with Real, he scored two penalties to take his tally against Barca to an extraordinary 20 goals in 31 games.
“Ronaldo was very motivated to put in a good performance here against his eternal rival, so when you’re that motivated, it becomes simple,” said Juve coach Andrea Pirlo.
However, Ronaldo himself denied that he was more motivated than usual, saying that he enjoys a “cordial relationship” with Messi.
“As I have said before, for 12, 13, 14 years (I have been) sharing prizes with him,” he told Movistar.
“I never saw him as a rival. He always tried the best for his team, and I tried the best for mine. I always got on well with him. I am sure he will say the same if you ask him. But we know in football, people always look for a rivalry to create more excitement.”
It was not just the goals that caught the eye. From the get-go, the 35-year-old looked much quicker than the Barca backline despite their significant age difference.
He even had time to help out his defence in the final 10 minutes when he tracked back and dispossessed Messi inside the Juve box before leading the charge on a counter-attack.
The Argentinian fought valiantly in what always looked to be a losing battle, but at times he appeared isolated in a disjointed attack.
He tested Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon from distance but never looked like scoring.
Both sides were assured of qualification before kick-off, but Juve’s three-goal victory, with Weston McKennie adding another goal, gave them a superior head-to-head record.
“We got off to a bad start, didn’t play well defensively, were lacking aggression in midfield, and Juventus played well,” an embattled Barca coach Ronald Koeman said. “They were particularly strong in the first half-hour and deserved to win.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE