Chemistry between Zidane and Ronaldo crucial for Real success
Mutual admiration between Zidane and Ronaldo reaping rewards for Real
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
REAL MADRID 2
(Cristiano Ronaldo 57, Jese Rodriguez 86)
The brief embrace with his coach, at his substitution, said it all.
Cristiano Ronaldo needed an appreciative mentor in the dugout.
Zinedine Zidane gladly filled the role.
The union yielded an impressive result at the Stadio Olimpico yesterday morning (Singapore time), as Ronaldo scored the opening goal to help Real Madrid beat Roma 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League Round-of-16 tie.
After the match, Ronaldo received high praise from a coach only too happy to enthuse about his contribution, just one day after the irate Portuguese had quit a press conference for being questioned on his relatively poor away form this term.
"We talked and I am happy with his goal because everyone always expects him to score and that's exactly what he did," said the 43-year-old Zidane, who enjoyed a winning Champions League debut as coach.
"Great", was how he described the 31-year-old forward on a glamorous European night.
The same, though, could be said of Zidane during an illustrious playing career that saw him win every major club and international honour that a footballer can dream of.
It is this mutual respect that helps make the marriage blossom.
Ronaldo's 57th-minute strike was as important as it was personal - his previous 16 goals had all been scored at the Santiago Bernabeu.
It came amid suspicion that the former Manchester United forward is showing signs of slowing down, as Barcelona's growing superiority on every stage threatens to eclipse the final years of his magnificent career.
An unexpected flick of the ball behind his standing leg was all it took to unlock Roman gates in the 57th minute, in front of a 55,612-strong crowd.
The wrong-footed Alessandro Florenzi could do no more than deflect Ronaldo's subsequent shot into the net.
Jese Rodriguez's late goal put the 10-time winners one foot into the quarter-finals of the competition.
But it was Ronaldo's strike which broke the opponents' spirited resistance.
Tellingly, the first person he looked for to celebrate his goal with, as his teammates sprinted towards him for the chance to share the joyous moment, was Zidane.
With previous Real coach Rafael Benitez, the chemistry wasn't so clear-cut.
The popular theory for Ronaldo's struggles in the first half of this season was that he couldn't see eye-to-eye with the Spaniard.
The narcissistic performer constantly craves for praise and attention, but Benitez didn't give a toss.
Zidane, though, didn't hesitate to massage the massive ego of a player he considers Real's main man, admitting that he feels "a certain admiration for Cristiano".
A week ago, the three-time Fifa World Player of the Year told Mexican newspaper Record: "Cristiano Ronaldo is the best. People can say what they like about Cristiano Ronaldo but, in his heart, he's a good person."
Zidane has overseen seven matches since taking over the reins from Benitez last month.
Real won six of them and drew one, as Ronaldo thumped in eight goals.
Zidane's managerial career is off to a flying start, just as Ronaldo looks the happiest he has in months.
Barcelona and the rest of Europe better watch out.
ROMA: Wojciech Szczesny, Alessandro Florenzi (Francesco Totti 87), Kostas Manolas, Antonio Rudiger, Lucas Digne, Miralem Pjanic, William Vainqueur (Daniele de Rossi 77), Radja Nainggolan, Mohamed Salah, Diego Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy (Edin Dzeko 64)
- REAL MADRID: Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco (Mateo Kovacic 64), James Rodriguez (Jese Rodriguez 82), Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo (Casemiro 89)
By the numbers
5 Although his last 16 goals all came at the Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo has also bagged five away goals in this season's Champions League - the highest tally so far.