Cristiano Ronaldo made it back-to-back hat-tricks to help Real Madrid to an strong start to their quest for an 11th European Cup began with a 4-0 victory at the Bernabeu over 10-man Shakhtar Donetsk that at the Bernabeu. In their first Champions League outing since being upset by Juventus in last season’s semifinals, Madrid took the lead on the half-hour mark when Karim Benzema handed a gift from visiting goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov. And the result was emphatically secured in the second half when, after Shakhtar midfielder Taras Stepanenko was dismissed for a second yellow card, Cristiano Ronaldo converted twice in 10 minutes from the penalty spot before completing his treble late on.
Both penalty awards were for handballs, and, while the second appeared justified, the first was a huge blunder from the officials. From Ronaldo’s shot the ball clearly hit Darijo Srna’s back, rather than his hand. Still, Ronaldo will care little. And, after breaking his scoring duck for the season by firing five goals on Saturday, the Portuguese star has now moved clear of Lionel Messi in the ongoing battle for top spot in the Champions League’s all-time scoring charts. A new record will also be in his sights, with his three goals on Tuesday taking him to within two of Raul as Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer in all competitions.
That will surely be reached sooner rather than later, and the same could be said for Real Madrid’s progress from their Champions League group. Indeed, it would be a surprise were it not left to Madrid and French champions Paris Saint-Germain, who beat Malmo in the group’s other opening game, to battle it out for top spot.
Shakhtar have reached the knockout phase in three of the last five seasons, however their task this time around is an arduous one. Not only are they faced with an unenviable group, but last season’s Ukrainian Premier League runners-up are also still reeling from the loss of leading lights Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano to Bayern Munich and Milan, respectively, over the summer.
While Mircea Lucescu’s team kept the ball well at times at the Bernabeu, they rarely posed a threat to Keylor Navas’ goal. The only negative for Benitez on an otherwise comfortable first foray into the Champions League with Real Madrid was injuries that forced off Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.
That could provide a challenge for Benitez going forward, but everything right now is going smoothly after three straight victories in which 15 goals have been scored and none conceded. They could have been up even earlier than they were on Tuesday, with Benzema side-stepping the Shakhtar goalkeeper but then shooting over the bar in the 14th minute.
The France striker couldn’t miss, though, a short time later. From Isco’s cross from the left, an apparent mix up between defender and goalkeeper left Pyatov to spill the ball straight to the feet of Benzema who duly rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
The task became more straightforward still six minutes into the second half when Stepanenko lunged in on Ramos to earn a second caution and his marching orders. Ramos would injure his shoulder in the incident, leading to the defender following Bale and Varane off the field.
But Madrid were still able made the most of their numerical advantage, although they initially needed a helping hand from the officials. After Ronaldo’s vehement appeals, despite his shot hitting the back not the arm of Srna, it appeared that the official behind the goal was the one to award a penalty. The in-form forward made no mistake, finding the net without fuss, as he did nine minutes later, when Marcio Azevedo did block with his arm.
And the cap was put on the night nine minutes from time. Marcelo’s shot was parried by Pyatov and Ronaldo, increasingly a supreme poacher, was on hand to finish from close range.