‘Juve can go all the way,’ says Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo had every reason to jump for joy after yet another Champions League masterclass. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019
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‘Juve can go all the way,’ says Ronaldo

  • The Portuguese star was at his brilliant best as the Turin giants came back from a 2-0 first-leg defeat at Atletico Madrid to win at home 3-0 and go through to the last eight
  • The Champions League has been his favorite stage throughout his stunning career, and he scored his eighth hat-trick in the competition to sink Atletico hearts

LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo sent a message to Real Madrid fans and an ominous warning to the rest of Europe after his brilliant hat-trick sent Juventus storming into the Champions League quarterfinals.
The Portuguese star was at his brilliant best as the Turin giants came back from a 2-0 first-leg defeat at Atletico Madrid to win at home 3-0 and go through to the last eight.
It was always going to take something special to beat the Spanish side — they had never lost when up 2-0 from the first leg, and the side is one of, if not the most defensively disciplined in Europe. With Diego Simeone at the helm, it was, everyone assumed, mission impossible for Juve.
But those predictions reckoned without another jaw-dropping Ronaldo display. The Champions League has been his favorite stage throughout his stunning career, and he scored his eighth hat-trick in the competition to sink Atletico hearts.
No sooner had he once again done the “impossible” than he told their last-eight rivals that more was to come.
“This was why Juventus brought me here, to help do things that they have never done before, to help them in games like this. I do my job and I’m very happy. It was a magical evening,” the 34-year-old said. “It was always going to be a special night and it was — not only for the goals but for the team. This is the mentality you need to win in the Champions League. We enjoyed a magical night.
Atletico were a difficult team but we were strong too. We will see what will happen.”
The first-leg had been a tough one for Ronaldo. The former Real Madrid star was back in the Spanish capital but at the home of Real’s city rivals. The fans let him know it and the Portuguese was not at his best. But having turned the tie around three weeks later, he was able to get his own back.
“I send a hug to all Real Madrid fans,” he said with a wink after his masterclass.
When a player usually says something along the lines of “that’s why they bought me,” there is an understandable temptation to dismiss a statement as being egotistical nonsense. But with Ronaldo, never one to shy away from reminding you how good he is, there is a huge sense that he was spot on.
Despite dominating Serie A, Juve are without a Champions League win since 1996, and an appearance in the final since 2015. Desperate for European glory, they spent over €100 million ($113 million) on the then-33-year-old, for some too much on a player that age. Now it is looking like good business; he was, as he said, brought for nights like these.
For defeated coach Simeone, there was no bitterness as he claimed there is no better player than the Portuguese hero, saying: “Cristiano Ronaldo is the best in the world. He can put in these performances on big nights.”


Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

Updated 23 March 2019
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Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

LONDON: The post-mortem on Los Angeles’ Lakers season has begun after the storied franchise missed out on the NBA playoffs for a sixth consecutive year this weekend.
It was not meant to be like this, especially after the signing of LeBron James — the man who single-handedly dragged his hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and was instrumental in Miami Heat’s dominance in the first half of the decade.
James’ mercurial talent was often the difference for those two franchises in clutch situations throughout the season, but for all the fanfare on his arrival at the Staples Center last summer, the “James Effect” has failed to materialize in California.
He has often called his own superhuman efforts in the run up to — and during — the postseason the “Playoff Mode,” but even the genius of James was not enough to put his new franchise into the picture.
It did not help that as soon as it became clear they were not going to be appear beyond April 10, made all the clearer by a recent humbling defeat to the league’s worst team (New York Knicks), James has been benched more and more by the management.
And it speaks volumes about the problems at the Lakers that it will be the first playoffs without James featuring since 2005. Not only had he played in the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, he had also played in eight straight NBA finals.
Granted, James — a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player — was adamant back in September that the task of rebuilding the Lakers, who had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons would be a long-term project.
“Obviously, I would love for the team to be in the post-season,” James said as soon as it became clear he and the team would miss out on the playoff party.
“But right now, it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that.”
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the Lakers this year?
A big factor was injuries, not only to James but to other key players, throughout the season.
Everything looked rosy for the Lakers toward the end of December when they thrashed reigning champions Golden State Warriors, but a groin injury to James was a sign of the bad run to come. In his 17-game absence, the Lakers won just six games.
Then Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle in January, leaving the Lakers defense very vulnerable while Brandon Ingram, who had been influential in the team reaching the dizzying heights of fourth place in the Western Conference, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. Those certainly were damaging injuries.
The Lakers, also, have built too much of the team and its tactics around James. They have a good core of young talent in Ball, Ingram and Kyle Kuzuma, but management has not utilized them nearly well enough. Instead, for the first half of the season definitely, there was too much focus put on James and he was expected to win games almost by himself. Even the greatest player of a generation needs help from time to time.
The boardroom has to take some responsibility, too. Letting players like Brook Lopez (having a remarkable season with this year’s huge surprise package the Milwaukee Bucks), Julius Randle who averages 20 points per game at New Orleans and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (picked as an All-Star this year) leave was a major mistake on the Lakers’ part.
There will need to be a big rethink in the off-season at the Lakers, but with James admitting a break from the high-pressure playoffs will give him time to “recalibrate body and mind,” you cannot rule out “King James” coming back better and stronger than ever to claim a fourth NBA title and bring back the good times to LA.