Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed a “great performance” by his team after their 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal first leg at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid dominated the first half, although they just had just a Cristiano Ronaldo header to show for it at the break. Zidane’s side then took control of the tie midway through the second half when Ronaldo rocketed in his second from the edge of the area and it then got even worse for Atletico with a break ending with the Portugal captain steering in his third of the night from eight yards.
Even with the second leg still to come at the Estadio Vicente Calderon next Wednesday, holders Madrid appear all but certain to reach a third Champions League final in four years, and their coach told his postgame news conference that his side had to be very happy with how they had played.
“We played a great game,” Zidane said. “It is not easy to score three goals tonight. We played a fantastic first 30 minutes, had many chances for a second goal, but we did it in the second half.
“So we can be very happy with the game, the three goals, and above all to keep a clean sheet at home as that is so important in a two-legged tie. I don’t know if it is our best game, but it was a great performance.”
Ronaldo now has eight goals in his last three Champions League outings, and 103 in the competition over his career. Zidane was asked if his policy of resting the 32-year-old regularly in La Liga meant he was able to show his best in the most important games.
“I don’t know if it is just that,” the Frenchman replied. “Cristiano scores goals — he is unique for that. It is important [that he has rested]and he knows that he must rest sometimes too. It is also an accumulation of all the years. He knows that as he is intelligent.”
Zidane said his team’s biggest strength was that they always looked to play football and were technically very able.
“Our strength is we always try and play football, as we have very good players,” he said. “And with patience we can do damage to any team. Our start, the first 30 minutes was fantastic, the intensity we put in, and technically we were very correct.
“Then we had five or 10 difficult minutes, but in the second half we were very effective, with few chances we scored two goals. Technically we interpreted the game very well.”
Having many different options to use within his squad was also very useful, Zidane explained.
“All the players are impressive,” he said. “One comes off, another goes in, and they do great. We can have one system at the start, then make changes, and the team gets even better.
“We started with Isco today between the lines and he did it great, then later we can have Marco [Asensio] and Lucas [Vazquez] and have more depth and width in attack, as well as more defensive balance. We did it great.”
With Madrid fans already thinking now of a first Liga and European Cup double since 1958, Zidane said he was not worried about his team getting distracted by a wave of euphoria.
“Today we can be happy and enjoy what we did,” he said. “But we still have a long way to go, in the Champions League and in La Liga too. We have not won anything yet, and I do not believe we will get too carried away.
“We have an important game in La Liga on Saturday at Granada and we still have the away leg [against Atletico]to play. We will have to fight and battle as we will suffer there for sure.
“There are no easy games in football. We know that we must play another perfect game there to go through in the tie.”