VALENCIA, Spain (Reuters) – Once again it proved impossible to keep Cristiano Ronaldo out of the Champions League spotlight as he made his debut in the competition for Juventus on Wednesday.
This time it was not the 33-year-old’s goalscoring exploits that stole the show, however, but the red card he received in the 29th minute against Valencia at the Mestalla.
It did not matter in the end as Juventus displayed customary grit to win their Group H opener 2-0 thanks to a couple of penalties tucked away either side of halftime by Miralem Pjanic.
But the sight of the competition’s record goalscorer and five-times winner walking off with tears in his eyes will be the abiding memory of his first European night in Juve colours.
It looked a harsh decision as German referee Felix Brych reached for his red card after Ronaldo’s seemingly innocuous tangle with Valencia defender Jeison Murillo in the area as Juve launched an attack down the left.
Ronaldo, signed from Real Madrid for 100 million euros ($117 million) in July, had never been sent off in his previous 153 appearances in Europe’s blue riband tournament and even Valencia coach Marcelino appeared to sympathise with the Portuguese great as he walked off in a state of shock.
While lesser teams might have crumbled, playing with 10 men for more than an hour showed just what Juventus are all about.
Having established a deserved lead, Massimiliano Allegri’s team, runners-up twice in the past four seasons, smothered Valencia’s attacks with their defensive blanket.
The three points never really looked in doubt.
“We were playing very well until Ronaldo’s sending off but we continued to play our football despite that blow and deservedly scored two goals,” Allegri said.
“Playing here is not easy because Valencia attack with this stadium supporting them for the first to the last minute.
“We all pulled together as a team when it was the moment to defend these three points.”
Even when Valencia were awarded a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time they could find no way through as Wojciech Sxczesny saved Daniel Parejo’s effort.
“It probably didn’t change the result but I can tell you it did a lot for my ego,” the Pole said.
“At Juventus we feel a responsibility to win everything — not just the Champions League.”