Second-half goals Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro helped Real Madrid dispose of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League Round of 16 with a 2-1 second leg win on Tuesday night at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
The scores from the Portuguese and Brazilian gave Real a decisive 4-2 victory on aggregate and a berth in the quarter-finals for the eighth consecutive season.
Ronaldo will surely get plenty of headlines for his timely goal, but much of this Real triumph was down to the defensive work of centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, along with defensive midfielder Casemiro.
The trio were nearly impeccable and their staunch, resolute defending stymied a PSG attack that never truly threatened Real’s two-goal advantage from the first leg. The only black mark was a ball that deflected off Casemiro deep in the area that led to the lone PSG goal through Edinson Cavani.
Also of note were the performances of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, who each played huge roles in both Real goals. Manager Zinedine Zidane’s faith in starting the pair was repaid handsomely.
It was still too early for midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to return from injury, so Zidane opted instead to pair Mateo Kovacic with Casemiro in the central midfield. Like in the first leg, Gareth Bale was on the bench, meaning Karim Benzema and Ronaldo led the forward line. Isco, who started the first leg, also found himself seated next to the Welshman in the dugout.
With Brazilian superstar Neymar injured and unavailable, PSG boss Unai Emery tweaked his attack so that Argentine and ex-Real Madrid man Angel Di Maria started alongside Kylian Mbappe and Cavani.
It was a frantic start for both teams and the back-and-forth was breathtaking, but also plagued by imprecise passing and heavy touches. But Real began to find their rhythm and Ramos came achingly close to giving Los Blancos a precious away goal off a pass from Asensio, but PSG stopper Alphonse Areola reacted in enough time to make the save.
With a two-goal cushion, Real could stay patient when going forward, but it was an error from Dani Alves that gave Real their best chance of the half. Benzema swooped in after the Brazilian’s miscue, but with just Areola to beat, the shot was deflected wide.
PSG finally managed to muster a couple chances late in the half, the best one being a shot from Mbappe from the right. It was saved by Real stopper Keylor Navas, but the young Frenchman would have been better off squaring for Cavani in front of goal.
The home side played with more urgency to start the second-half but another error from Alves early in the second stanza would prove very costly. Asensio dispossessed the PSG right-back, slipped a pass down the left to Lucas Vazquez, who swung a cross in for Ronaldo to head into goal for a 1-0 lead.
PSG’s comeback task then got a lot taller midway through the half when the petulant Verratti was sent off with a second yellow card for dissent.
Some good fortune did find PSG though soon after, as a deep attempted clearance of a Javier Pastore header bounced off Casemiro and fell right to Cavani, who fired in to make it 1-1 in the match and 4-2 on aggregate.
But Real would make sure there would be no Barcelona-type comeback for the hosts, as Casemiro would put the nail in the coffin when his shot off a poor Adrien Rabiot clearance deflected off of Marquinhos and into goal for the 2-1 final scoreline.
The goal would have never happened though without the work of Lucas Vazquez, who started the break with a clean tackle and then made a lung-busting run into the area before playing a deep cross that eventually led to Casemiro’s chance.
With the tie decided and playing up a man, it was one-way traffic for Real. Bale and Ronaldo each hit the post in search of a third, while Areola had to endure target practice before referee Felix Brych finally blew the final whistle.
Up next for Real is a visit to Eibar on Saturday.
1.- Paris Saint-Germain: Areola; Alves, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Yuri; Rabiot, Motta (Pastore, min. 59), Verratti; Di Maria (Draxler, min. 76), Cavani, Mbappe (Diarra, min. 85).
2.- Real Madrid: Keylor; Carvajal, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Lucas, Casemiro, Kovacic (Kroos, min. 72), Asensio (Isco, min. 82); Benzema (Bale, min. 76), Cristiano.
Goals: 0-1, min. 51: Asensio; 1-1, min. 71: Cavani; 1-2, min. 80: Casemiro
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany).
Yellow Cards: Verratti (Min. 20) for PSG, Kovacic (Min. 32) for Real Madrid, Verratti (Min. 66) for PSG, Ramos (Min. 78) for Real Madrid, Cavani (Min. 84) for PSG
Red cards: Verratti (Min. 66) for PSG
Stadium: Parc des Princes