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By Simon Evans
CARDIFF, June 4 (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo just seems to get better and better.
On Saturday he made the difference yet again with two goals to help Real Madrid secure a third Champions League title in four years as they crushed Juventus 4-1 in a riveting final.
For all the talk of tactics, the threat posed by the Italian champions and the romantic notion of Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon finally claiming a Champions League winner’s medal, Ronaldo yet again found a way to hog the headlines.
Of course, Real’s win was about much more than the contribution of their Portugal forward.
When Juventus enjoyed spells of pressure in the first half, they largely held firm. After Mario Mandzukic scored an incredible first-half equaliser with an audacious overhead kick, Real didn’t let the Italians get away from them.
And whatever French coach Zinedine Zidane told his Real players at halftime succeeded in producing a display of dominance that, once Brazilian Casemiro had put them 2-1 up on the hour, never looked in danger of ending in anything other than celebrations.
But it was impossible to ignore Ronaldo, as his team mate Toni Kroos was quick to point out.
“You need a guy to score the goals and he did it again,” said the Germany international.
Strikes in each half from Ronaldo made him the first player to score in three finals in the Champions League era, adding to his goals in the 2008 and 2014 showpieces for Manchester United and Real respectively.
His second on Saturday, to make it 3-1 in the 64th minute, put the game beyond Juve and made him top scorer in this season’s Champions League with 12 goals -- one more than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who he is constantly compared to.
It also happened to be Ronaldo’s 600th career goal for club and country.
The former Benfica and United winger-turned-striker turned 32 in February but far from fading he is as dangerous as ever -- perhaps even more effective than in his younger days.
In the past 12 months Ronaldo has won two Champions League titles, the European Championship with Portugal, claimed a Spanish league title and the World Club Cup and on an individual level been awarded the Ballon d‘Or and FIFA’s ‘Best’ award.
“Again, I’ve had an amazing season. Me and my team-mates have done the double. The numbers don’t lie. I‘m very happy – an amazing season, we’ve won trophies. This is one of the best moments of my career – I have the chance to say this every year,” he said.
“The squad has been great and it’s been good for me individually, too. I prepared myself well for the final part of the season and I scored some important goals.”
Ronaldo was handed the Man of the Match award by his former manager Alex Ferguson, a reminder of his early years as a devastatingly quick winger at Manchester United, with whom he won his first Champions League final, and of course scored.
Now 32, most of the tricks are on show only in the warm up as he concentrates his efforts on that instinct and killer touch that all truly great strikers possess and that have helped him plunder at least 40 goals in each of the last seven seasons.
His first goal at the Principality Stadium to put Real ahead in the 20th minute against Juve illustrated that perfectly as he had the wit to lay the ball off to Dani Carvajal on his right and then the smartness to hold, wait for the cut-back pass and then use his technique to bury the ball in the bottom corner.
For his second, Ronaldo read and anticipated Luka Modric’s burst to the byline, timed his run perfectly and met the Croatian’s low cross with a deft touch that lifted the ball over the helpless Buffon.
Class, quality and the killer touch, all when it matters most. Would anyone bet against him doing it all again next year? (Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris/Mitch Phillips)