Champions League: Real Madrid, Liverpool cruise into quarter-finals

Cristiano Ronaldo punished Paris Saint-Germain’s slack defending once again, scoring a powerful second-half header as Real Madrid cruised into the Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-1 win on Tuesday.

Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, PSG’s fragile defence crumbled and its attack offered little threat without the injured Neymar. The biggest bang from this PSG side was from the fireworks constantly let off by a section of fans behind one goal.

Edinson Cavani’s close-range goal gave PSG some hope with 20 minutes left. But with midfielder Marco Verratti already sent off, scoring two more to force extra time was beyond a lacklustre PSG side.

Instead, midfielder Casemiro’s deflected shot looped past stranded goalkeeper Alphonse Areola in the 80th to make it 5-2 on aggregate. He was gifted the ball after midfielder Adrien Rabiot dealt poorly with Lucas Vazquez’s cross.

To compound a miserable night for PSG fans, who so badly want to believe this side can conquer Europe, Verratti showed terrible composure to in getting sent off midway through the second half. He got a second yellow card, having protested vehemently with referee Felix Brych after not getting a free kick his way.

“Our fans got behind us, I apologize to them,” Rabiot said. “We tried but we couldn’t do it.”

Ronaldo had already done his usual damage.

The Champions League’s all-time leading scorer was given far too much space and leapt triumphantly to beat Areola with a downward header in the 51st minute. It took his tournament-leading tally to 12, including two in the first leg.

Liverpool eliminates Porto

In the night’s other match, five-time champion Liverpool eased into the last eight, drawing 0-0 at home to two-time winner Porto after winning the away leg 5-0.

The atmosphere was electric at Parc des Princes in Paris, with thick smoke engulfing the stadium a pre-match pyrotechnics were set off. PSG’s exuberant fans were asked to “stop letting off flares” over the stadium loud speaker just after the interval.

This was all part of a concerted effort to motivate the players. The club’s communications department had released a video, urging fans to rally behind the team seemingly as a matter of urgency for the city itself. Neymar also posted a video on Twitter, with the words “Vous allez le Faire” (You will do it).

Banners around the ground encouraged the team and some fans had already taken matters into their own hands. Late into the night before the game, a small group of PSG Ultras let off bangers, chanted “Paris” and banged a drum outside the Real Madrid team hotel.

But all this bluster seemed more like bluff, and did little to intimidate a composed Madrid side.

Madrid had the first shot on target, with centre half Sergio Ramos’s crisp half-volley bringing a fine stop from Areola. He saved PSG again in the 37th, kicking away Karim Benzema’s shot after the former France striker had sprinted clear of Marquinhos down the left.

Near the end of the first half, PSG tested goalie Keylor Navas twice at last. Navas first dived into the feet of Cavani and, from PSG’s next move, blocked his front post well as Mbappe hit an angled drive from the right.

Ronaldo headed wide early in the second half — a warning sign.

Moments later he headed home Vazquez’s pinpoint cross from the left after a quick break down the left from the impressive Marco Asensio, astutely selected ahead of Gareth Bale by Zidane.

“Tactically we played the right way, we believe in what we’re doing,” Zidane said. “We closed them down high up the pitch.”

Madrid could have had further goals breaking forward on counterattacks, with Asensio and Ronaldo hitting the post.

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CBC | Soccer News