Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a brace on his return from suspension for Real Madrid, as Tottenham Hotspur ended their Wembley jinx and Liverpool were held on their Champions League comeback on Wednesday.
Real have sorely missed their Portuguese superstar as he serves a five-match domestic ban for pushing a referee.
But he wasted no time in making his towering presence felt against Apoel Nicosia, scoring after just 12 minutes from Gareth Bale’s low cross, and then doubling his tally from the penalty spot before Sergio Ramos’s overhead kick rounded off the cosy 3-0 win.
Ronaldo has now struck 12 times in his last six Champions League games.
“He is the best in the world. We know he will always score goals,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“With a bit more luck today he could have scored four. Cristiano has so many goals in him and we feel it.”
“Hopefully he stays in form. You can’t question the levels he reaches every year,” added Ramos.
The titleholders top Group H with Tottenham, who ended their woeful Wembley run with an impressive Harry Kane-inspired 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund.
Already scarred by damaging Wembley defeats in the Champions League and FA Cup semi-finals last term, Tottenham had lost to Chelsea and drawn with Burnley this season, sparking alarmist talk that they were jinxed at the hallowed north London venue.
But, after losing eight of their previous 12 matches at Wembley, Kane’s predatory finishing ensured Tottenham finally enjoyed a night to remember in their temporary lodgings.
Son Heung-Min’s first goal of the season put Tottenham ahead early on with Andriy Yarmolenko conjuring a sublime equaliser.
Kane, who scored twice in Saturday’s win at Everton, restored Tottenham’s advantage before the interval and wrapped up the victory with his second goal after halftime.
The only blemish for Spurs was a late sending off for a second bookable offence for Jan Vertonghen, who swung his forearm into Mario Gotze’s face.
“It was so important to win, we are so happy. We increased our level in the second half and were very clinical,” Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said.
“It is more than three points. The team is more mature now. Harry Kane was fantastic.”
COSTLY FIRMINO MISS
At Anfield, Roberto Firmino’s first-half penalty miss proved costly for Liverpool as Joaquin Correa scored a dramatic equaliser to grab Sevilla a 2-2 draw.
Anfield was in jubilant mood as the English club welcomed back Champions League football after a two-year absence, but it took Sevilla just four minutes to dampen the enthusiasm.
After Wissam Ben Yedder had given the Spanish side an early lead, goals from Firmino and Mohamed Salah put Liverpool ahead, only for Firmino to miss a penalty.
On the hour, Sevilla manager Eduardo Berizzo was dismissed for throwing the ball away from Liverpool’s Joe Gomez as he tried to take a throw-in, but his disappointment was eased, thanks to Correa, on 72 minutes, reports supersport.com.
“Of course I’m not happy with the result but I’m happy with a big part of the game,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
“A lot of times when good teams play each other, the games are kind of boring, but this game was the opposite. And that was due to the desire, the passion, the greed of my team.”
Liverpool and Sevilla were joined on one point in Group E by Spartak Moscow and Maribor, who drew 1-1 in Slovenia.
Manchester City ran out the biggest winners of the night with a 4-0 rout of Feyenoord in Rotterdam courtesy of goals from Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and John Stones’ double.
City coach Pep Guardiola commented: “We did not play back… We were aggressive… We had the legs to run on the side, especially on the right and created the chances. Enough to win the game comfortably.”
Shakhtar Donetsk beat Napoli 2-1 to share the summit in Group F.
French champions Monaco were held 1-1 at competition newcomers RB Leipzig in Germany as Besiktas topped Group G with a 3-1 win at Porto.
Eagles’ll prove FIFA wrong – Rohr
Super Eagles Manager Gernot Rohr has said Nigeria will prove FIFA by emerging from Grop D of the World Cup despite being rated lowest in that section. Nigeria slipped in the current FIFA rankings; the Eagles are rated 56th in the world far behind Argentina, Croatia and even Iceland. Rohr is unfazed by the continuous tumbling of his team on FIFA rankings, saying the lads will prove their mettle when the tournament takes the centre stage in June.
“Everybody knows that FIFA is a respectable organization; they also know that we are ranked the lowest in our group but we want to prove to everyone what we can do by getting out of the group. We want go all the way in the competition and I trust my players they will do that,” the coach said at the venue of the NFF awards on Monday.
Echiejile seeks to cement Eagles’ position
Super Eagles’ left-back Elderson Echiejile is happy to return to the pitch after an injury spell in the past few months made him miss games for the country, AOIFootball.com reports.
The former AS Monaco player, who joined Belgium’s second division side Cercle Brugge on loan from Turkey’s Sivaspor on the final day of the winter transfer window, told AOIFootball.com exclusively that he was happy to be back and relished the opportunity to wear the Eagles’ jersey against Poland and Serbia next month. “It feels nice to be back after injury setbacks. I missed the games against Algeria and Argentina, but I’m back now and I want to always give my best for the country.
“The games against Poland and Serbia will be key to our World Cup preparations and I believe this kind of games can help us prepare well ahead of the tournament proper in June,” Echiejile said.
Echiejile further expressed confidence in cementing his left-back role, saying the competition is good for the team and will make the coaches select the best for the World Cup.
“Currently there are three or maybe four left-backs in the team; should I be scared? I don’t think so because this competition for places is a statement that the national team is returning to his glory days,” Echiejile concluded.
Meanwhile, the Super Eagles’ defender made his debut for second division side Cercle Brugge in a league game at the weekend. He featured for the entire duration of the encounter against St. Gilloise. He was booked for a foul in the 89th minute of the game.
Supporters’ Club plans to take 20 lucky fans to Russia 2018
National chairman of Nigeria Football Supporters Club, Reverend Samuel Ikpea, has confirmed plans to take 20 lucky Nigerian fans to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia through a planned raffle draw in Lagos on April 29.
Ikpea explained that following a partnership with Telecom Youth Games, 20 fans who would be picked at the April 29 draw would be sponsored to and fro Russia- including feeding, accommodation and transport “All Nigerians wishing to go to Russia to support the Super Eagles should do is to buy World Cup raffle draw tickets at the National Stadium, Lagos, State Football Association Secretariats nation wide for N200 only.
Once you are lucky to have your ticket picked at the draw, you are qualified for full sponsorship to and fro Russia,” concluded Ikpea. Meanwhile, the chairman has expressed shock over the death of Kano Pillars star, Chinedu Udoji in an auto crash. Udoji, a veteran of the league died on Sunday and Ikpea has described the sudden demise as a huge loss to Nigerian football. “On behalf of Nigeria Football Supporters Club, I sympathise with family of Udoji and Kano Pillars.
It’s indeed a painful death of a promising player. He was such a dedicated player from when he was captain of Enyimba of Aba before moving to Kano Pillars. “We at the Supporters Club pray God to give the Udoji Family, Kano Pillars F.C and the football fraternity the fortitude to bear the huge loss,” Ikpea said.
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