Real Madrid and FC Porto became the first teams to qualify for the 2015 Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday, doing so in completely different ways. Madrid advanced despite a stunning 4-3 loss at home to Schalke, advancing 5-4 on aggregate, while Porto thrashed Basel, 4-0.
Schalke began on the front foot in Spain, twice taking the lead in the first half only to be knocked back by two headed goals from Cristiano Ronaldo. The Germans began the match two goals down after their home game last month but put in a gutsy performance against a sputtering Madrid.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Portugal, Jackson Martinez-less Porto scored on two direct free kicks to go past Basel after a 1-1 first-leg draw in Switzerland. Algerian international Yacine Brahimi put one home from short range before Casemiro unleashed a long rocket in the second half. The two sandwiched a stellar strike from Mexican international Hector Herrera, and Vincent Aboubakar sealed the result with a final tally.
Here are a few observations from a raucous day of action:
Player of the Day: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
In a performance reminiscent of his hat trick against Sweden in the qualification playoffs for the 2014 World Cup, Ronaldo scored both of his team’s first-half goals, helping stem the tide and right the ship in what ultimately was a 4-3 loss.
Zlatan Ibrahimović may not have been on the other side this time, but Schalke managed to remain dangerous all match. Christian Fuchs overlapped from left wingback to impact multiple Schalke attacks, and Max Meyer drove through Madrid’s midfield at will.
Schalke outplayed Real at the Santiago Bernabéu as a collective, and with that it meant Real Madrid needed a special performance from an astounding player to still doom the German club. That's what Ronaldo provided.
In setting more goalscoring records, Ronaldo again reminded modern observers of their good fortune to have two once-in-a-generation players competing at the same time in Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
They trade defining performances multiple times a season in Spain and draw comparisons even when their teams compete separately in the same competitions.
While Fuchs, Meyer and fellow double goalscorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar showed Schalke's intent for an upset, and Brahimi, Herrera and Casemiro, a Madrid loanee, produced highlight-reel goals, Ronaldo put his team’s fate in his hands and led it through to another stage of the competition. Barely.
Moment of the Day: Ronaldo's first-half double
Five minutes after his team went down a goal, looking much the worse group at home against Schalke, Ronaldo equalized for Real Madrid. He outmaneuvered Joel Matip in the penalty area, jumping to head home off a corner kick.
With the goal, Ronaldo passed Messi and fellow club great Raúl at the top of the all-time goalscoring chart in European club competitions. In the short-term picture, it also energized his team.
Instead of preening for the fans seated around the field, Ronaldo ran toward the home bench and visibly admonished Real for its lackluster start to the match. In the 31st minute, he picked up a yellow card after stretching on a tackle and catching too much of his opponent, the Ballon d'Or winner's passion overflowing.
Huntelaar gave Schalke the lead again with five minutes to go before halftime as Madrid fell asleep again, but Ronaldo struck again before the whistle, heading home Fabio Coentrao's cross. The second goal was his 78th in all European competitions and tied Lionel Messi’s record of 75 Champions League goals.
Despite a poor team performance from Real, Ronaldo came through to drag Madrid into the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday. As the best players often do, he played his best when his team needed it the most.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Navas should get his chance in Madrid
Another player Real needed to play well did not, and not for the first time. Spanish goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas still wears the captain's armband and will always have his five league and three Champions League titles with the club, but his recent performances have been those of a player in decline.
It started last year, when manager Carlo Ancelotti rotated him with Diego López, leading to a series of inconsistent performances in Europe and with Spain at the World Cup. His play continues to slip, while a capable stand-in remains on the bench in Costa Rican Keylor Navas.
Navas put in one of the World Cup's best goalkeeping performances, earning a transfer to Real.
His quality became apparent across the Spanish leagues with Albacete and Levante, and he hasn’t made any mistakes in his brief minutes to unsettle Real teammates or fans.
Casillas’ leadership qualities remain vital for the club, but part of a goalkeeper’s leadership has to be through the example he sets. He must give the players in front of him confidence and organize the back line. Madrid’s defense played catastrophically against a dynamic Schalke attack, and both goals conceded in the first half should have been prevented.
Casillas knocked Fuchs’ shot into the goal for the opener when it came right at his hands. Then, he parried Meyer's tame shot right into Huntelaar’s path for an easy tap-in. In league play, Casillas’ technique has been uncharacteristically shaky.
With two simple saves in the first half on Tuesday and an important one on Benedikt Howedes deep into second-half stoppage time, discussion should be of a crisis in Madrid, but one of a hard-fought victory with a bit more difficulty than expected. At some point, though, that has to weigh on the manager’s mind just as much as Casillas’ leadership abilities.
Assessing Real Madrid, Porto as deep-run candidates
Porto plays in a lesser league but still looks somewhat like this season’s Atlético Madrid, a well-coached team unafraid of any challenge. Julen Lopetegui’s team scored an important away goal in Basel before its four-goal outburst at the Estádio do Dragão and is one of just two unbeaten teams–Chelsea being the other–in this season's champions league.
Missing starting center back Iván Marcano won’t help Porto’s chances to start strongly in the next round, though, and a much less stable defense than Atlético’s could be a major liability. Meanwhile, Madrid should only fear an implosion or total collapse reducing its chances to beat anybody.
Real might be slipping in league play and nearly threw away a two-goal lead against Schalke, but the talent on the squad makes it impossible to sell the club short as a contender to repeat. With Luka Modrić’s return on Tuesday for the first time since November, a shaky midfield also got stronger.
Porto’s possible fortune rests somewhat on the draw, while Madrid should still be favored against any team besides perhaps Bayern Munich or Barcelona.
GALLERY: Tifos around the world
Best soccer tifos from around the world
Galatasaray fans display a sensational "Rocky" tifo ahead of their clash against rival Fenerbahce. It didn't inspire a victory, though. The Turkish rivals played to a 0-0 draw.
Borussia Dortmund fans channel their 1963 cup triumph over Benfica ahead of the teams' second leg in the Champions League round of 16 at Signal Iduna Park.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans turn to Moses for tifo inspiration, with his splitting the Red Sea illustrating how "impossible is nothing" in their Europa League series against Besiktas.
Fans of Tunisia's Club Africain display this pointed tifo at a friendly against PSG, whose Qatari owners have pumped millions and millions into the club.
U.S. fans in Columbus, Ohio, make a "One Nation, One Team" statement ahead of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on November 11, 2016.
Germany fans display their heart for the team colors ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in October 2016.
Italy fans spell out their support for the Azzurri ahead of a massive World Cup qualifier vs. Spain in October 2018.
Iceland fans keep up their world-famous passion for the national team during a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2016.
Fans in the United Arab Emirates set their sights on reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia during a qualifying match vs. Australia in September 2016.
Colombia fans send a massive jersey around the stadium during a World Cup qualifier vs. Venezuela in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn to Game Of Thrones for inspiration in a game against the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
Djurgardens fans go all out in Sweden for a match against AIK in September 2016.
Zulte Waregem fans prepare Kortrijk for the absolute worst in this Belgian top-flight match in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn their pop culture reference to Poltergeist in March 2016 ahead of the season home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers Army doubles down on their Eastbound and Down theme, adding another wrinkle during the club's MLS Western Conference final first leg vs. FC Dallas on November 22, 2015 at Providence Park.
Fans make a French flag tifo at Wembley Stadium during the singing of Le Marseillaise ahead of England's friendly vs. France, which took place days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Timbers Army referenced Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers with their "Cup Bound and Down" tifo for the Portland Timbers' MLS playoff elimination game against Sporting Kansas City on October 29, 2015.
Brondby IF fans display a gladiator holding up a lion's head during the team's Danish Alka Superliga match against FC Copenhagen, whose logo is a lion's head, on September 27, 2015.
New England Revolution fans equate Jermaine Jones to Indiana Jones on their quest to capture the 2015 MLS Cup on September 26, 2015.
New England Revolution fans display a Lion King theme in honor of Orlando City FC's first visit to Gillette Stadium on September 5, 2015.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Germany fans in Cologne salute their World Cup champions ahead of a friendly against the United States in June, 2015.
Real Madrid fans went all out prior to the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal vs. Juventus.
Lazio fans display a stunning eagle tifo ahead of the Rome derby against AS Roma in their penultimate Serie A match of the 2014-15 season.
Barcelona fans bid farewell to veteran midfielder Xavi with this banner at his last league game at Camp Nou before he departs for Qatari club Al Sadd.
Fans at Anfield pay tribute to Steven Gerrard in his final home match as a Liverpool player in May 2015.
Juventus fans state their case to beat Real Madrid in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and reach the final in Berlin.
Fans at Benfica's Estadio da Luz remind rival Porto who the Primeira Liga reigning champion is during an April 2015 match in Portugal.
New York Red Bulls fans send a pointed message to their NYCFC counterparts prior to the teams' first MLS meeting in May, 2015.
Inter Milan's Curva Nord announces its presence ahead of the April 2015 Derby della Madonnina–the annual clashes between city rivals Inter and AC Milan.
Bayern Munich fans implore their club to (translated) "Never give up" in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Porto. Bayern then turned a 3-1 first-leg deficit into a 7-4 aggregate win and a place in the semifinals.
Dortmund fans commemorate their 1997 Champions League trophy in the club's clash vs. Juventus–the opponent on the wrong side of that title bout.
Portland Timbers fans speak out against homophobia with this tifo in a 2013 match against Chivas USA
Atletico's supporters display a banner reading "Atleti crushes" before the Spanish league match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid,
Borussia Dortmund fans put on a remarkable display ahead of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match.
Brondby IF fans unveil a tifo ahead of a match in Denmark against Randers FC.
FC Barcelona fans display a huge banner in memory of former head coach Tito Vilanova.
Galatasaray fans support their team during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The American Outlaws unveil a huge tifo ahead of a 2014 World Cup send-off match between the USA and Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Marseille's supporters use paper sheets to create an "OM" (Olympique de Marseille) tifo at the beginning of the French L1 football match between Marseille and Genoble.
Seattle Sounders fans display their tifo that shows coach Sigi Schmid playing cards and holding a Royal Flush before a match against the Portland Timbers.
Panathinaikos Athens fans display a banner during the UEFA Europa League match against Dynamo Moscow.
Fans of the Saudi Al-Hilal team celebrate after the scoring of a goal against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor.
Seattle Sounders fans unveil a tifo inspired from the “Build a Bonfire” chant, featuring Sounder players holding torches on horseback ahead of a game against the Portland Timbers.
Fans of Hertha BSC before the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in Berlin.
Sporting Kansas City fans channel their inner Mario ahead of the 2013 MLS Cup final vs. Real Salt Lake.
Brondby IF fans.
Thousands of Barcelona fans hold up cards to spell out "Barca! Orgull," which translates to "Barcelona pride" ahead of a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at Camp Nou.
Fans raise a tifo celebrating “Community, Club and Country” ahead of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the USA and Belize in Portland, Oregon.
Vitesse fans unfurl a massive Eagle banner at the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax at the GelreDome.
Valencia fans drape a banner featuring a king for a Copa del Rey ("The King's Cup) match against Atletico Madrid.
Juventus fans make a statement in Turin in a match vs. Inter Milan.
Dortmund fans put on another strong display at a Bundesliga match against Mainz 05.
German fans boast the newest star earned by the national team, symbolizing its 2014 World Cup triumph, at a Euro 2016 qualifying match in Dortmund.
Real Madrid fans make a point to display the club's 10 European championships ahead of the October 2014 clash against rival Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
San Jose Earthquakes fans unleash a massive tifo to mark the opening of Avaya Stadium, MLS's newest soccer-specific venue, in March 2015.
Barcelona fans show all who the real 12th man is ahead of the March 2015 Clásico vs. Real Madrid.
Ahead of a clash with Mexican foe Monterrey, Tigres players are treated by this message by its fervent supporters.
Standard Liege fans have a pointed message for Steven Defour, who departed the club for Belgian rival Anderlecht.
Orlando City fans mark their club's inaugural MLS game vs. fellow expansion side New York City FC with a statement that the Lions' "reign begins now."
Real Madrid fans salute Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after he captured the most prestigious individual prize in world soccer again.
Vitesse fans pay homage to Operation Market Garden ahead of an Eredivisie match against SC Heerenveen.
Sevilla's fans deploy a giant banner in the stands before the UEFA Europa league final match between Benfica and Sevilla.
Fans in Liverpool’s Kop End at Anfield commemorate those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Lyon fans during a game against Saint Etienne.