Fresh from a triumphant derby victory, Real Madrid will seek to confirm its place in the knockout phase of the Champions League when visiting Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday. In a repeat of last season’s Champions League final, Real Madrid inflicted a rare home loss on its city rival with a 3-0 victory in the last ever La Liga Madrid derby to be played at the Vicente Calderon.
It was a particularly celebratory occasion for Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick to rack up another record, becoming the Real Madrid’s leading scorer against Atletico, surpassing the great Alfredo di Stefano. It means the 31-year-old, who recently signed a new five-year deal at the Bernabeu, is sure to be in buoyant mood as he travels back to the club where his legendary career took its first steps.
It was from Sporting Lisbon as a spindly 18-year-old that Manchester United captured the Madeira native 13 years ago. He has since gone onto become the world’s most expensive player, Real Madrid’s record goalscorer and winner of the Ballon d’Or and Champions League on three occasions.
While Tuesday will not be the first time that Ronaldo returns to face Sporting, it will be the first time that he does so having helped his country to a long-awaited international title. As if in any doubt about how much his home country mans to him, a video released last week showing a speech Ronaldo gave in the Portugal locker room moments after victory over France in the Euro 2016 final made his feelings clear.
“Forget the individual trophies, Champions League, this one right here is the happiest moment of my life,” he said.
— selecaoportugal (@selecaoportugal) November 18, 2016
Illustrating his status in the country, it will also be the first time that Ronaldo returns to the capital where a hotel bears his name. The Pestana CR7 Lisboa Hotel, dedicated throughout to the man himself, opened in Lisbon last month.
But if that venture suggests Ronaldo is eyeing a future away from the pitch, he said when signing his new contract that he aims to play on for another decade.
Records remain to be achieved. And another landmark could be reached on Tuesday. No player has ever reached 100 goals in European competition, but Ronaldo currently stands on 98, 95 of those having come in the Champions League.
There is, though, more immediate concern for Real Madrid. A 3-3 draw at Legia Warsaw last time out in the Champions League means Zinedine Zidane’s side trail Borussia Dortmund by two points at the top of Group F. A place in the last 16 has not yet been achieved, with Sporting five points back. A win for Sporting on Tuesday would take matters to the final match day and potentially leave Madrid needing to get a win at home to Dortmund to be sure of qualification.
Still, losing is not something Real Madrid has made a habit of under Zidane. Indeed, the team has only lost twice since Zidane took charge in January and go into Tuesday’s game on a 29-match unbeaten streak.
Sporting’s hopes of making it to the knockout phase for just the second time in the Champions League era have been left hanging by a thread by back-to-back defeats against Borussia Dortmund. Those losses were a part of a four-game winless streak in all competitions for Jorge Jesus’ side. But the Lisbon outfit has since recovered to record back-to-back convincing league wins and sit third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga.
Sporting should be lifted, too, by its performance at the Bernabeu in September when it took an 89th minute Ronaldo equalizer and a winner from Alvaro Morata four minutes into injury time to give the home side victory.
Prediction: While perhaps the scoreline flattered Real Madrid to a degree on Saturday, it was still an impressive outing against an Atletico team that has provided plenty of headaches in recent years. Zidane could make changes on Tuesday, with Karim Benzema potentially returning to the starting lineup. But in a game that Sporting needs to win, Madrid’s attacking quality should be allowed the opportunity to come to the fore and secure a place in the next round.
Predicted Score: Sporting Lisbon 1-2 Real Madrid