Cristiano Ronaldo has proven himself the man for the big occasion this season and could decide the Champions League final, former striker Ivan Zamorano has said.
The Portugal star has scored 16 goals – including a hat-trick in the quarter-final against Wolfsburg and goals in each leg of the last-16 tie with Roma – during Real Madrid’s run to the final this term, putting him one shy of his own scoring record in a single season, set in their victorious 2013-14 campaign.
And Zamorano, who won La Liga and the Copa del Rey in a four-year spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, expects Ronaldo – scorer of the winner in the 2-1 Clasico defeat of Barcelona in April – to be the decisive player in next week’s final versus Atletico Madrid.
“He will be the man in charge of making the difference. I think that Cristiano has been present on the big occasions during the season,” Zamorano told Omnisport. “When the team needed him in order to change a result or to carry the team, he did it.
“Although he suffered an injury that stopped his progression, he will have to be the man who can change the course of the final. I’m expecting the best Ronaldo in order for Madrid to win the final.”
A run on just one loss in 20 matches, which came against Atletico, saw Madrid finish just a point behind Barca in La Liga under coach Zinedine Zidane, whose impact in guiding Madrid within touching distance of an 11th European title has surprised Zamorano.
“Zidane has given more than 100 per cent. What the team has done is great. He has given another appearance to the team,” he said.
“I believe that, through his leadership, he has been able to transmit to the players at Real Madrid that being second is failure, that they have to fight until the end. We have seen his essence reflected on the players on the pitch.
“When Zidane became the coach, it was unexpected that Real Madrid will be fighting for the Liga title with Barcelona until the end, plus being in the Champions League final and playing the way they are.”
Despite Zidane’s influence, Zamorano is anticipating a tight encounter with an Atletico side he feels has improved since losing the final to Madrid in Lisbon in 2014.
“Both teams are at a similar level. In Spain, Real and Atletico fought for La Liga until the end. From football and physical points of view, they come to the final on a par with each other,” he added.
“But if you take the last final between them as an example, I see a better Atletico now, more secure on the pitch. I think they have a bonus taking into account how they have reached the final: they eliminated two of the favorites of the tournament, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“So I think this Atletico arrive in a better condition than two years ago, but in comparison to Madrid, they’re on a similar level. Little details will decide the final.”