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It was another Champions League match, and another hat trick for the incorrigible Cristiano Ronaldo. No matter how high the stakes or drastic the circumstances, Ronaldo always performs.

This time, he’s given Real Madrid a big leg up to get into the Champions League final, and he did so against one of their biggest rivals, Atletico Madrid, scoring a hat-trick to lead Real to a 3-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The win is part of what is quickly becoming a legendary knockout round performance. After scoring just two goals in the group stage, Ronaldo has responded with one of the best stretches in UCL history. He now has eight goals in his past three Champions League matches, including consecutive hat tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico.

Real opened the scoring 10 minutes into the match during a blitz on Atletico’s goal. The Real midfield did well to recover a cleared corner, while the attackers retained their shape in the box. Atletico partially cleared a second cross by Sergio Ramos, but Casemiro settled it and immediately shot another ball back into the midfield. From there, Ronaldo’s instincts around goal kicked in, and he charged past his defender to blast the ball goalward with a powerful header.

The early going was a time of feverish activity for Real, when it appeared they would score again soon and be well on the way to victory. Jan Oblak deflected another fine header minutes later, while Karim Benzema had a bicycle kick go inches above the frame around the 26th minute.

But Atletico was able to keep Real in check for the most part, and they settled into the match enough that it seemed they could go into the second leg at the Vicente Calderon only a goal down or perhaps even level if they could nick a goal. Once again, though, the speed of the Real attack and the brilliance of Ronaldo was just too much.

Real attacked on the break in the 73rd minute and a gorgeous weighted pass from Marcelo on the left flank to Benzema at the top of the box left Atletico’s defenders out of sorts and in awkward positions. Benzema was able to scoop a pass to Ronaldo on the right. The ball took a difficult bounce, but with the space he was given, it may as well been served on a platter. Ronaldo belted a half-volley past Oblak for the 2-0 lead.

A 2-0 margin of victory heading into the second leg would give Real a lot of confidence, but 3-0 would nearly put the nail in. With a burst of momentum from the second goal, and Atletico’s injury waning as the match was slipping away, Real pounced and pushed forward with an outstanding counter attack.

Ronaldo moved from out wide while bringing the ball up the pitch. A nice interchange with Lucas put the Brazilian in at the goal line, while Ronaldo was free to move back toward the center of the box. The cross was a bit off, but Ronaldo collected and finished it, as cool as you like, for the hat trick.

At this point, Ronaldo has solidified his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play in the Champions League/European Cup. It seems like with each goal scored, he breaks another record. He has 42 career hat tricks for Real Madrid tied Lionel Messi for career hat tricks in the Champions League (7). He surpassed Real legend Alfredo Di Stefano (11) for the most goals ever in the Champions League semis (13). He has the most goals ever in the UCL knockout stage (52). Most importantly, he has the most goals ever in the Champions League (103). Tellingly, that’s three more than Atletico as a club has in the history of the competition.

But Ronaldo has the chance to be more than just one of the greatest ever in the Champions League. He has the chance to be the (singular) greatest to ever lace up his boots in Europe’s grandest competition. Lifting the Cup With Big Ears once again this year will go along way toward proving it. And if he continues with the form he’s in right now, I have no doubt he’ll do just that.

As good as Atletico, Monaco, and Juventus are, they don’t have Ronaldo, and that makes a world of difference.

Mutoni Jolie

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