BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Not once, but twice Cristiano Ronaldo leapt, twisted, and landed with both arms thrust downward as if he were driving a flag into conquered terrain at the Camp Nou.
Ronaldo celebrated after scoring two penalties to lead Juventus to a 3-0 win at Barcelona on Tuesday, one-upping Lionel Messi in the renewal of the head-to-head matchup between the two greatest players of their generation.
No team that had come to play at Messi’s Barcelona had left with a victory in over seven years in the Champions League.
The commanding win in the last game of the group phase let Juventus clinch first place in Group G on a better head-to-head record with Barcelona after both finished level on 15 points. Both teams had already comfortably qualified for the next stage prior to the match.
With Ronaldo 35 and Messi 33 years old, both stars played like this could be the last time they face off in their illustrious rivalry that enthralled Spain for nearly a decade before Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Serie A in 2018.
“It was a great team effort,” Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “When you take the pitch with this will to sacrifice for each other, for the good of the team, and you have a finisher like Cristiano up front, everything becomes possible.”
Ronaldo converted spot kicks for the 13th-minute opener and a third goal early in the second half after U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie had doubled the advantage in the 20th.
Messi and Ronaldo briefly embraced with one arm behind each other’s back and exchanged a few words before kickoff at stadium that remains empty because of coronavirus restrictions.
While Ronaldo benefited from errors by Barcelona’s defense, Messi was left to carry the workload for the frustrated hosts. The Argentina forward was unable to beat Gianluigi Buffon on his five shots on target.
“We started poorly, with fear and without any sense of aggression. It was like we didn’t want to lose the match instead of wanting to win it,” Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said. “We lost the match in the first half hour.”
In the team’s first group game in October, Messi scored in a 2-0 win in Turin with Ronaldo unable to play after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Including matches with Ronaldo at Manchester United and two friendlies between Argentina and Portugal, Messi and Ronaldo have now faced off 36 times. Messi has won 16 times and Ronaldo 11 with nine encounters ending in draw. Messi has scored 22 goals and Ronaldo 21 in those games.
Ronaldo struck first from the penalty spot following a shoulder-to-shoulder collision with defender Ronald Araújo in the area. He coolly drilled his penalty down the center while Marc-Andre ter Stegen dived to his left.
A second goal came when Barcelona’s two central defenders completely lost concentration in the heart of the box.
McKennie played the ball wide to Juan Cuadrado and floated unbothered to the penalty spot. The American was unmarked by either Aráujo or Clement Lenglet to volley home a cross from Cuadrado.
Messi tried to rally Barcelona, but another defensive blunder sent Ronaldo back to the penalty spot in the 52nd after a video review alerted the referee that Lenglet had used his hand to swat a ball. Ronaldo’s 14th career goal at Camp Nou put Juventus into first place.
“We committed mistakes that just can’t happen” Ter Stegen said about his team’s defense, which was missing injured leader Gerard Pique.
“There are two things, the individual mistakes and the way we are defending. When we let our focus slip, we concede goals. We have to be stronger, do our homework and continue to work hard.”
Messi exchanged his shirt with Buffon after the final whistle. Ronaldo had already been substituted in the final minutes and congratulated by Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo.
Barcelona’s record of 38 home games without a loss in Europe’s top-tier tournament began in September 2013.
The loss adds to a growing list of disappointing results for a team that, thanks to Messi, had dominated European football for a decade — until a steady decline that hit rock bottom in an 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals last season. Since Koeman arrived to rebuild the team, it has struggled above all in the Spanish league, where its haul of 14 points from 10 rounds is its lowest since La Liga adopted three points for a win in 1995-96.
It also does nothing to give any hope to Barcelona’s fans that Messi has changed his mind about leaving his club of 20 years next summer when his contract expires.
This story has been corrected to show Juventus won the group because of its better head-to-head record against Barcelona, not because of goal difference.
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