Bayern Munich last night took the first step towards the difficult task of denying a spectacle that millions are desperate to see – an El Clasico Champions League final.
The Bundesliga side were extremely impressive in their 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in the Allianz Arena last night, but one of the lasting memories of the game was Cristiano Ronaldo’s lack of any concerted influence.
The point of the lather over a Real v Barcelona final is the meeting between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the widely presumed best two players in the world.
It is with this in mind that the Portuguese’s significantly under par performance was highlighted as another example of him not bringing his best onto the big stage.
This is an accusation that has consistently followed Ronaldo throughout his career, at least from his Manchester United days anyway.
It is difficult to comprehend as the £80million man is obviously one of the most talented players in the world at the moment and, probably, ever to have played the game.
While you cannot say that in every crucial game he has played he has performed badly, there is credence in the suggestion that he is yet to truly stand out in a game such as the one in Bavaria.
His relationship with Real's fans was icy for a time earlier in the year after they expressed displeasure at his attitude and crititcised him for poor form in the Clasico meetings with Barcelona.
With Jose Mourinho’s side facing a deficit to overcome in next week’s second-leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, the world’s most expensive player will have the perfect opportunity to make the difference when the world is watching.
However, the subdued nature of his showing is not entirely his fault; praise must be reserved for the Bavarians, who had the best of thrusting game and stifled much of Madrid’s considerable attacking threat with a furious dedication to closing down in their own half.
Mourinho’s side were given hardly any time to build from the middle and so never really had a point at which they had a comfortable, sustained period of possession.
Ronaldo did not have such a regular supply line as he usually does and it is difficult for anyone to impose themselves when they are not getting a lot of the ball.
Although there is no denying that his use of it was mixed at best, he lost the ball on a number of occasions attempting to advance with the ball at feet and being crowded out by two opponents.
You can point to the assist for Real’s equaliser, but this was a highpoint in an otherwise frustrating evening for him – exemplified by the abysmal finish he produced when given the best chance of the game up to then.
Ronaldo’s perpetual comparison is famously effective in the games of high pressure and importance. In fact, he is renowned for stepping up his performance when defining moments are presented.
However, Messi is ably assisted by an entire team that do not seem to let the weight of occasion or pressure effect their game to a damaging effect and this is a significant help to a player’s performance.
Ronaldo was just one of a number of Real’s players who were not allowed, or able to enforce, their usual game and so the team suffered as a whole.
Near the end of the contest he was annoyed at what he perceived to be over-zealous hassling by Bayern defenders and Howard Webb’s reluctance to award him free-kicks.
The reality was that the home side were not doing a lot different from the rest of the contest and Ronaldo’s frustration was just beginning to get the better of him.
The stage will be set for Ronaldo to dispel the accusations of going missing in big games come the second leg in Madrid next Wednesday, but Bayern’s exuberance will once again make this difficult.
If proceedings go as expected in the opposite semi-final, one big performance by Ronaldo against the Germans will set up probably the most prominent test of his big game resolve possible.