Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed the “unique” talents of Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portugal forward netted a hat-trick in the 3-0 Champions League semi-final win over city rivals Atletico at the Bernabeu.
Ronaldo moved onto 100 European goals in the quarter-final win over Bayern Munich, when he scored five times including a treble in the second leg.
The Portugal forward again proved the man for the big occasion as holders Real moved within touching distance of another Champions League final appearance.
After heading the hosts into an early lead, albeit having looked offside in the initial build-up, Ronaldo smashed a second past Jan Oblak on 73 minutes and then knocked in a late third following another swift counter.
It was an all-round performance which left Zidane full of praise for his squad.
“Cristiano is a goalscorer. He is unique. All the players were brilliant,” the Real Madrid coach said at his post-match press conefercne, as quoted by the official UEFA website.
“I am lucky to have these players. We try to play our football and enjoy ourselves. It works because we have great players with great attitudes.
“We knew what we had to do from the off and we played the game we wanted to. Today Isco played as a number 10 and was fantastic. We then had width with ( substitutes ) (Lucas) Vazquez and (Marco) Asensio. In a defensive sense we were brilliant too.”
Zidane continued: “I am happy with what I am doing here and with the players, we played a great game. We can hurt any side with our weapons.
“We started well, the first half-hour was fantastic, and we were clinical with our chances.
“We interpreted the game very well. It is not easy to score three times against such a difficult side and keep a clean sheet.”
Atletico, beaten in last season’s final by Real, rarely threatened and now have it all to do at the Vicente Calderon next Wednesday night as they look to produce a dramatic recovery against their rivals, who defeated them in both the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals.
Zidane, though, warned against any complacency.
“We have won nothing yet and need to continue in the way we are going,” the Real Madrid coach said.
“We still have the second leg. We will have to work hard and fight for it. We will suffer at their place for sure.
“There’s no such thing as an easy game and we need to play a perfect game at their place in order to go through.”
Zidane added: “We are content, very happy and we can enjoy it but we still have a long way to go in the Champions League and La Liga.
“I don’t think that we are euphoric and imagining ourselves in the final.”
Despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Atletico coach Diego Simeone insists his side will never give up hope.
Atletico beat Real 4-0 at Vicente Calderon in a LaLiga match during February 2015, a result which if repeated next week would see them progress against the odds.
“They won the first leg of the qualifier, but the second one still remains,” Simeone said, quoted on the official Atletico website.
“It is very complicated, but it is football. Football has unexpected things. We will play until the last drop of possibility we have.
“Now we have to try to do something impossible, but since we are called Atletico Madrid, it may be possible for us to do it.”
Cristiano Ronaldo earns plaudits after another Champions League hat-trick – APROKOPIKIN