The Bianconeri triumphed 3-2 on the night but bowed out at the last 16 stage on away goals after a dramatic encounter in Turin
“These are his games,” the Juventus coach told reporters. This wasn’t his game, though – not even close. The Corriere dello Sport even went so far as to say that the Old Lady had been betrayed by Ronaldo.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, his poor performance is a mere footnote in Juve’s tale of Champions League woe, which stretches all the way back to 1996.
They’ve lost five finals in the interim. Now, they’ve been eliminated in the last 16 for the second consecutive season. In 2018-19, they were dumped out in the quarters by Ajax.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Not with Ronaldo. He’s Mr. Champions League. With him on board, a team that reached two finals in three seasons between 2015 and 2017 looked poised to take that agonising final step. Instead, they’re further away from the trophy than when he arrived.
Despite losing 2-1 to Porto in the first leg, Juve had tried valiantly to avoid even thinking about another early exit.
“It’s our duty to go through to the next round,” Juve director and former midfielder Pavel Nedved had told Sky Sport Italia beforehand. Instead, Juve are out of Europe and, this time around, they won’t even have the consolation prize of a Scudetto.
The Serie A title already looks lost, for the first time in 10 years, with Inter currently 10 points ahead of the third-placed Bianconeri at the top of the table. Even a possible Coppa Italia win – Juve meet Atalanta in the final – isn’t going to cut it for Pirlo.
Indeed, a penny for Andrea Agnelli’s thoughts right now. The Juventus president didn’t sanction a €340 million (£292m/$404m) deal for Ronaldo to see his side knocked out of Europe by Ajax, Lyon and now Porto.
No wonder the European Club Association (ECA) chairman wants more games and guarantees for the big boys in a revamped Champions League;the Old Lady needs all the help she can get in Europe right now.
Of course, the big question is what Agnelli will decide to do with Ronaldo and Pirlo? The former is a colossal strain on the club’s resources; the latter has failed to prove he can deliver the European glory Juve so sorely crave.
Sporting director Fabio Paratici insisted at the weekend that he retains full faith in the Pirlo project but it was telling that the rookie coach was asked on Monday if he felt his future depended on the outcome of the Porto game.
“If I thought so,” he told reporters, “I wouldn’t be here.” Who knows now, though, how long he’ll be at Juve? The same goes for Ronaldo, who must now be questioning whether he should see out the final year of his contract.
He remains a goalscoring machine but looks unsuited to Pirlo’s style of play. As in the first leg at the Dragao, the Portuguese superstar struggled to get into the game. And as at the Dragao, it was Federico Chiesa – not Ronaldo – who dragged Juve back into the tie.
Juventus had performed pathetically in Porto, but the Italy international’s composed strike with just eight minutes to go secured the visitors a precious away goal.
It was wiped out just 18 minutes into Tuesday night’s return clash in Turin, with Sergio Oliveira coolly converting a penalty awarded for Merih Demiral’s clumsy challenge on Mehdi Taremi.
Consequently, Juve needed two goals just to force extra-time. They got them – thanks to the irrepressible Chiesa.
And it is he that the Bianconeri now arguably need to build their team around, given he has gone from strength to strength since joining from Fiorentina last summer.
Ronaldo, to his credit, was involved in the equaliser, laying the ball off for Chiesa, who finished emphatically into the top-right corner of the Porto net.
Then, after Taremi had been stupidly sent off for booting the ball away while already on a booking, Chiesa levelled the tie on aggregate by rising at the back post to expertly guide home the most inviting of crosses from the excellent Juan Cuadrado.
Juve had numerous chances to win the game, even before it went to extra-time, with Ronaldo surprisingly mistiming the kind of header he normally buries with ease.
Almost inevitably, the home side were punished for their profligacy when Sergio struck again, this time with a long-range free kick that Wojciech Szczesny really should have saved even accounting for the shameful disintegration of his wall, with Ronaldo again culpable.
That left Juve needing to win 4-2 to progress and Adrien Rabiot’s header with three minutes of extra time remaining gave the hosts renewed hope of a great escape.
But they could find no way past Pepe & Co. in the dying seconds despite intense pressure. It just wasn’t their night. Or Ronaldo’s game.
And one wonders now whether it will prove his last in the Champions League for Juve…