TURIN, Italy – Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to make the difference. He was supposed to end the long wait for another Champions League title. He was supposed to, essentially, do it all for Juevntus.
He didn’t quite manage it, but he sure came close.
Ronaldo scored the opening goal on Tuesday to give his team a 1-0 lead over Ajax in the Champions League quarterfinals, but two goals in other direction eliminated Juventus 3-2 on aggregate.
That ended the team’s chances of winning its first Champions League title since 1996, and ended Ronaldo’s run of three straight Champions League titles from his days with Real Madrid.
“There were great expectations, that is true,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “Cristiano increased our chances of winning the Champions League but football isn’t math. It’s not one plus one equals two, but one plus one can equal three, four, zero.”
Juventus signed Ronaldo with one goal in mind, winning the Champions League title – especially after losing two of the previous four finals.
But Ronaldo notwithstanding, Juventus struggled against a fast and vibrant Ajax team with key players such as captain Giorgio Chiellini, Mario Mandzukic and Douglas Costa missing.
“The Champions League is strange, you have to arrive in the best condition,” Allegri said. “When you’re missing five or six players in the space of a few days like we have, it’s difficult to go on.”
In the absence of Mandzukic, Allegri could have used teenager Moise Kean – who had scored six goals in his past six matches for both Juventus and Italy’s national team. But instead an out-of-form Paulo Dybala played alongside Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi.
Kean replaced Dybala at the start of the second half but couldn’t change the match as the midfield struggled to create anything.
Many of Juve’s problems have been masked by its continued domination of the Italian league. The team holds a 17-point lead over second-place Napoli and needs only one point from its remaining six matches to secure a record-extending eighth straight Serie A title.
On the rare occasions it has struggled this season – in league matches against Genoa and in the Italian Cup loss to Atalanta – it has been against young and energetic teams.
For many years, Juventus had one of the strongest defenses in Europe with a back line of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini. But Juventus was stretched at the back time and time again on Tuesday with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny coming to the rescue on several occasions.
In the last round, against Atletico Madrid, it was Ronaldo that came to the rescue, scoring a hat track in the second leg to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the opening match.
But not even Ronaldo could knock off Ajax this time.
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