MADRID (AP) — All that rest has paid off for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Real Madrid forward has been pacing himself, skipping games that he would have normally played in previous years, and is peaking at just the right time.
On Tuesday, he scored a hat trick for the second straight game in the Champions League, leading Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid that virtually put the defending champions back in the final. Madrid will advance even with a two-goal loss in next week’s second leg at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
“I feel very good,” Ronaldo said Wednesday. “I’ve prepared myself to be in great shape in the final stages of the Spanish league and the Champions League. You also need to have a bit of luck as well, because I prepared myself and things have been going well, for me and for the team.”
Ronaldo was rested in several games recently, with coach Zinedine Zidane making sure he stayed fresh down the stretch. Madrid is still fighting with Barcelona for the title in the Spanish league, a competition is hasn’t won since 2012.
“It’s important for him to rest from time to time and he knows that,” Zidane said. “I don’t know whether it’s all down to him being rested. He’s got goals in him, he is unique.”
Ronaldo has scored eight goals in the last three Champions League games. He also netted a hat trick in the second leg of the quarterfinals against Bayern, in addition to the two goals he scored in the first leg in Germany.
“The goals come naturally,” Ronaldo said. “I ended up scoring the goals, but the team did a tremendous job.”
In Ronaldo’s last six games in all competitions, he has scored nine goals.
“Cristiano always exceeds expectations,” Madrid midfielder Marco Asensio said. “The fans need to thank him because he always comes through in the important games.”
With his goals on Tuesday, Ronaldo increased his total to 400 with Madrid, by far the most of any player in the club’s history. He reached the milestone in 389 matches. Raul Gonzalez, Madrid’s second-best scorer, had 323 goals in 741 games.
“It’s something special,” Ronaldo said. “It’s a huge amount of goals. I didn’t expect this. I’m very happy and I want to keep giving my best and to help the club win titles.”
Tuesday’s goals at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium also left him within one of this season’s scoring leader in the Champions League, Lionel Messi, who scored 11 with Barcelona before the Catalan club was eliminated by Juventus in the quarterfinals. Each player has been the Champions League scoring leader five times in their careers.
Ronaldo had scored only two goals in his first eight games in the European competition. It had been an up-and-down season for Ronaldo, who has 35 goals so far.
He finished with more than 50 in each of the last six seasons with Madrid.
The hat trick on Tuesday was his seventh in the Champions League, leaving him with 103 goals in the competition. He is the only player to have broken the 100-goal mark.
“It’s great to have a player like Ronaldo,” Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos said. “You can defend well, you can control the midfield, but you still need someone to score the goals. He does that for us every time.”
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