Image: Football Soccer – AS Roma v Real Madrid – UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg – Olympic stadium, Rome, Italy – 17/2/16 Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in action during the match against AS Roma. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
ROME (Reuters) – Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 12th Champions League goal of the season with a superb strike into the top corner as Real Madrid took a firm grip on their last-16 tie against AS Roma with a 2-0 first leg win on Wednesday.
The record 10 times European champions took the game to Roma, but were frustrated in the first half as the hosts kept men behind the ball, while looking to catch Real out on the break.
Ronaldo, however, ended their resistance just before the hour mark.
He audaciously controlled a fine pass from Marcelo on the left edge of the box, before unleashing a powerful, curling shot that deflected off Alessandro Florenzi and looped over keeper Wojciech Szczesny into the net.
The emphatic finish sparked a joyous celebration from the Portuguese who raced across to embrace coach Zinedine Zidane.
“It was a great match by him and the rest (of the team),” Zidane told beIN Sport.
“I’m happy (about the celebration) but above all because he scored,” added the Frenchman, who was a Champions League winner with Real as a player in 2002 but was making his competition debut as coach.
“It’s been a very special day, we played well but it was a difficult match because they (Roma) played well.”
Substitute Jese added the Spanish team’s second four minutes from fulltime with a solo run into the box and shot across the face of goal that flew inside the far post.
Two minutes earlier, Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas came out sharply to save at the feet of Stephan El Shaarawy after one of Roma’s fast and dangerous counter-attacks.
Ronaldo might have had a second goal a quarter of an hour from the end but his header at the far post was just wide from James Rodriguez’s superb cross.
Karim Benzema then saw his goalbound shot from another James cross hit Lucas Digne in the head.
At the other end, Roma substitute Edin Dzeko hit the side-netting with a header and Real were relieved when the home side were not awarded a penalty after a tackle by Dani Carvajal on Florenzi.
“It was our best performance of the season this evening against a top team,” Florenzi told Mediaset.
“We’re bitter because we played really well and to see this score is not pleasing.”
Real did not have a single shot on target in the first half, but twice had Raphael Varane to thank for coming to their rescue, as the centre back superbly intercepted a ball from Mohamed Salah to Diego Perotti, before blocking a shot by El Shaarawy.
Zidane remains unbeaten since he took over from the sacked Rafa Benitez early last month and the coach was given enthusiastic backing from Real defender Sergio Ramos.
“We’re all on the same wavelength as Zinedine Zidane, we’re very happy with him,” Ramos said.
(Writing by Rex Gowar; editing by Toby Davis)
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