Cristiano Ronaldo is accustomed to using his legs to score goals, not concede them.
So when the record scorer was at fault for letting in the decisive goal that eliminated Juventus from the Champions League this week — with an elementary error, no less — it stunned even the most experienced of soccer analysts.
Retired manager Fabio Capello conducted a virtual interrogation of first-year Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo after the game against 10-man Porto, trying to figure out who was responsible for assigning Ronaldo and teammate Álvaro Morata — who both turned their backs — to the wall that failed to stop a free kick from Sérgio Oliveira in extra time.
The ball passed under the wall, through Ronaldo’s legs, and into the left corner of the goal.
“When you prepare the players for the wall, do you talk to them and ask, ‘If there’s anyone who’s afraid, tell me, because then I won’t use you in the wall?’ You were eliminated because you put two players in the wall who turned their backs on the ball and the ball went in, and the goalkeeper wasn’t at fault,” Capello told Pirlo on Italy’s Sky TV.
“That was really inexcusable — to be eliminated because the players in the wall are afraid,” added Capello, the former AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma, Juventus and England coach. “Someone who doesn’t face the shot head on and who is afraid of getting hurt should never be part of the wall. In my career, I always asked the players to tell me if they’re afraid. I had to be sure that the shot would be blocked by the wall.”
Pirlo accepted responsibility for assigning Ronaldo and Morata to the wall but suggested that the real problem was that his players “underestimated the danger” of Oliveira’s shot, which was taken at a great distance from the goal.
“An error was committed and unfortunately when you make mistakes like these in the Champions League Round of 16 you pay for them,” Pirlo said.
An error also led to Porto’s opening goal, a penalty converted by Oliveira.
Juventus won the game 3-2 but was eliminated on away goals after Tuesday’s match ended 4-4 on aggregate.
Juventus spent 100 million euros ($120 million) to lure Ronaldo away from Madrid in 2018 with the explicit hope that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner would help the Turin club win the Champions League.
After all, Ronaldo had just won the sport’s most coveted club title for three consecutive seasons with Madrid, while Juventus was coming off a stretch that included two runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2017.
But, if anything, Juventus has regressed with Ronaldo. The Bianconeri were eliminated by Ajax in the quarterfinals of his first season in Turin then lost to Lyon on away goals in last season’s Round of 16.
The Champion League’s all-time leading scorer (134 goals) has one more season remaining on his contract but at age 36, Juventus appears in no rush to hand him an extension.
“It’s not on the agenda right now,” Juventus sports director Fabio Paratici said. “Cristiano has his career in his hands. With these great players you always know that when they decide to end their experience with one team and move on to another experience, it’s they who decide, and you have to respect that decision.
“We have to consider how he will feel in order to continue or not once his contract expires,” Paratici added.
The consolation prize for Juventus this season could be a record-extending 10th straight Serie A title, or another Italian Cup triumph in the final against Atalanta in May.
But for the first time in years, Juventus is not in control of the Italian league.
Pirlo’s squad trails Serie A leader Inter Milan by 10 points entering a visit to Cagliari on Sunday, although it does have a game in hand.
There’s no more room for errors.
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf