History-maker Ronaldo helps Juve close in on ninth straight league title
Cristiano Ronaldo put Juventus on the brink of a ninth consecutive Italian league title on Monday (July 20), after he scored twice in a 2-1 win over Lazio to become the first player to hit 50 goals in Serie A, La Liga and the English Premier League.
Juventus ended a three-match winless run thanks to Ronaldo’s second-half brace that moved them eight points clear of second-placed Inter Milan with four games remaining.
Maurizio Sarri’s side could win the title on Thursday against Udinese, or on Sunday at home against Sampdoria, depending on their rivals’ results this week.
“We are missing four points, only after we have achieved them will we then be able to think about the goal achieved,” said Sarri.
“All the games are difficult now and, in the space of six days, we play three games. So, we must stay focused and think about securing the missing points.”
The 61-year-old Italian added: “Cristiano is an impressive player because he has the extraordinary ability to complete a quick recovery between games. Not only physically but, above all, mentally. He is a champion with his feet, but also with his head.”
Ronaldo grabbed the first goal from the penalty spot just after the break and was handed a tap-in three minutes later by teammate Paulo Dybala.
The Portuguese has scored 30 goals this season, equal with Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who ended his three-match drought with a late penalty. Ronaldo’s second was his 50th goal in Serie A, after also passing the landmark in England and Spain.
The 35-year-old is now looking to become the first player to finish top scorer in three of the top-five European leagues after doing so in England and Spain.
“Records are always important, but the team victory is more important,” said Ronaldo.
“I’m helping the team to win. It’s important to win the title. There are four games left and we know that Serie A is a difficult championship.”
Lazio’s hopes of a first Serie A title since 2000 are effectively over as the defeat leaves them fourth, 11 points adrift of the leaders.
Just one point had separated Juventus from Lazio when Serie A returned last month, following the three-month coronavirus lockdown. But Simone Inzaghi’s side have been hit by injuries and poor form since the return, losing five of eight games, with four of those defeats coming in the last five matches.
Both sides had early chances with Felipe Caicedo coming close early for the visitors behind closed doors at the Allianz Stadium, and an Alex Sandro header clipping the woodwork.
Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha got his hand to push an angled Adrien Rabiot effort over the bar with Ronaldo heading wide. An Immobile rocket from the edge of the box hit the bottom of the post with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny beaten.
Lazio could thank defender Manuel Lazzari for a goal-line clearance just after the break as Dybala threatened and Ronaldo tried to finish amid chaos in front of goal. But the hosts got their chance when a Bastos handball was confirmed after a VAR review.
Ronaldo stepped up to slot in on 51 minutes and added a second after a Luiz Felipe blunder allowed Dybala to gain possession with the Argentina international powering up the pitch, before teeing up the Portuguese to finish off. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner missed the chance of a hat-trick when his header hit the crossbar after 66 minutes.
Lazio pulled a goal back with seven minutes to go after a Leonardo Bonucci foul on Immobile, who converted the resulting spot-kick.
“There is a bit of regret because, after the lockdown, we had a lot of problems,” said Inzaghi, whose side had beaten Juve twice this season, in the reverse league fixture in Rome and the Italian Super Cup final.
“I congratulated the lads because, despite the problems, we showed character. The important thing is we want to celebrate a return to the Champions League after 13 years.”
Lazio are in the final Champions League berth, 11 points ahead of city rivals AS Roma. – AFP