Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazilian playmaker Marcelo gave an enormous boost to Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, after the team came from behind to beat Paris Saint Germain 3-1 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 at Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Zidane had been under pressure with Real flagging domestically, 19 points away from arch rivals Barcelona. He thus needed the win. He will even earn praise for his substitutions, with Marco Asensio coming off the bench to set up each of the two late goals.
That was after Zidane had taken a risk by leaving out Gareth Bale, a key element in the side that has won three of the last four Champions Leagues. The Welshman’s place in the line-up was taken by Isco.
Ronaldo scored twice in the match regarded as the first leg of of the clash of two heavyweights.
The Portuguese striker first scored from the penalty spot in the first half to cancel out Adrien Rabiot’s opener for the French side.
It was his 100th Champions League goal for title-holders Real.
The Portuguese star then turned the ball home from close range with seven minutes left before Marcelo secured what could turn out to be a decisive first-leg lead ahead of the return in Paris on March 6 and sent nearly 80,000 home fans into raptures.
The late collapse for PSG brings back echoes of the way they fell apart to lose 6-1 in Barcelona on their way to a humiliating exit at the same stage of the competition last season.
Neymar, in Barcelona’s ranks then, could not make the difference for PSG, who now have a huge job on their hands to turn the tie around.
Having looked set to come away with a precious draw, the defeat piles the pressure on coach Unai Emery.
Emery dropped his captain Thiago Silva to make way for 22-year-old Presnel Kimpembe in the centre of the PSG defence.
The hosts started well too, while Neymar struggled, slipping when one pass was aimed towards him, complaining as a Luka Modric challenge sent him to the floor and picking up a yellow card for a foul on Nacho.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, saw Alphonse Areola make a fine save from his net-bound shot after he had been released by Marcelo, and not long after that, in the 33rd minute, PSG scored.
Neymar could claim an assist, although it didn’t look like the Brazilian meant to help Kylian Mbappe’s low ball across the box from the right into the path of Rabiot, who swept home unmarked.
PSG had a precious away goal, but they could not hold their lead until the break as Giovani Lo Celso gave away a penalty for a foul on Toni Kroos.
Areola, having just made a superb save from Karim Benzema, could do nothing to keep out Ronaldo’s spot-kick.
The visitors had chances to go ahead again in the second half, Keylor Navas saving well from Mbappe and Sergio Ramos blocking bravely from Rabiot.
Emery then surprisingly took off Edinson Cavani and replaced him with Thomas Meunier, a right-back. But it was Zidane’s decision to send on Asensio that proved crucial.
In the space of three late minutes, Asensio saw one cross palmed out by Areola and then rebound into the net off Ronaldo’s thigh, before another assist was finished off by Marcelo, potentially finishing the tie in the process.