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Tireless Cristiano Ronaldo breathes life into Real Madrid

The Portuguese star's hat-trick fired his team into the quarter-finals. Celta, Aspas aside, had little to show for themselves.

It took Cristiano Ronaldo two minutes to remind Celta that rotating is fine, provided the club have a good enough squad to do it. The Portuguese put the tie level on his own with his first touch of the ball. After that, he simply emphasised his effectiveness, to the point where the fans were clamouring for the "Ballon d'Or" to be inscribed with his name. The missile he fired from the left wing met fear, not strength; keeper Jesús trembled as it flew past him. Madrid took the lead, which in reality followed on directly from Ronaldo's volley in the last minutes of the away leg in Balaídos, which had chilled the excitement of a Celta team thrilled to be 2-0 up, and went on to book a quarter final spot with an excellent first half, and a second that, at times was beyond exasperating. From Ronaldo's bulleted right foot goal Madrid took convincing control, and reached the break blessed with another goal from their number seven, this one a gift from Modric. In fact they could have been further ahead, having made several gilt edged chances, the best of which saw Ronaldo ridiculously ruled off-side when he was clean through and had started his run behind several Celta players.

From before the game the indications weren't good for Celta. The most surprising was the devastating message Paco Herrera sent his team, having said in the pre-match conference that they only had a "10% chance of going through", he then sent out a team more suited to a pre-season friendly, with Ouboña and Aspas on the bench. With no character or reference points Celta shrank into themselves, already expecting Madrid to claw back the advantage from the first leg. All the visitors could do tonight until the 60th minute was chase the ball, and they didn't have a shot until their leader Aspas came on. The home team meanwhile came out as a unit. With the pace they like to play at, and blessed by the presence of their own Saint in goal. Captain Casillas. Saint Iker they call him. Madrid came out as if annoyed to be nothing more than the centre of controversy. As if they were hungry for people to talk about their drive and their football, rather than their internal divisions. Even Carvalho seemed like a different player. In midfield, with Modric free, he knitted patterns of intelligence and nerve, that arrived with bite. Up front, with Cristiano, Madrid were devastating.

In the second half the scene changed entirely, and it was entirely logical. Xabi Alonso injured his neck in a tumble in the first half and didn't come out for the restart. Madrid lost their rhythm and their vision. For Celta it was the opposite. Aspas came on for Park. It may not have changed the result, but just his presence was enough to lift his teammates. He delivered Celta's first shot, he created the conditions for De Lucas to finally threaten and he sowed doubts around the Madrid defence. With this new panorama what could have been a stroll in the park turned into a torture session. Mou smelt the danger and changed his plans to avoid surprises. Varane, who had come on for Xabi, left the centre of defence for 10 minutes and went out to Ramos' wing when Aspas appeared. Essien continued to provide a physical presence, but in no way made the defence solid. Things got worse when Ramos was correctly sent off for a second piece of dangerous play, with the same player on the receiving end as in the first: De Lucas.

For several long agonising minutes the game was balanced between a killer blow from Real Madrid and the possibility of extra time (frustrating extra time, with an eye on the league). Celta were only a goal away from their aim of prolonging the suspense. Augusto gave Casillas the chance to shine, and the Bernabéu breathed again. Higuaín came off the bench to give Madrid the attacking options they were forgetting about with their chronic defect of falling backwards when ahead on the score board. Between the Argentine and Cristiano they chased the ghosties away with a textbook counterattack finished off by the Portuguese. Khedira, the compulsive poacher, made it four in the last minute with more luck than skill. From a pass from Cristiano, of course. CR7, the untiring CR7.

Estadísticas AS.com