There was little drama entering Barcelona and Juventus's Champions League group finale, with both sides already through to the knockout stage. And as it wound up, there was little drama to the one can't-miss element to the proceedings at Camp Nou: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo sharing the same stage yet again.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored on two penalty kicks–taking his all-time Champions League goal record to 134–as Juventus eased by a hapless Barcelona, 3-0, to top their group on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Barcelona is through as the second-place finisher after both ended the group stage on 15 points.
It had been over two years since the generational stars faced off, with it last happening when Ronaldo was at Real Madrid. Ronaldo missed the first meeting between the two sides in group play after contracting COVID-19, with Messi scoring on a stoppage-time penalty kick in a 2-0 Barcelona win in Turin.
In the opening stages on Tuesday, Barcelona carried out manager Ronald Koeman's gameplan: keep the ball, limit the chances for Ronaldo.
“We need to try and keep hold of the ball, because as long as we’ve got the ball, [Ronaldo] can’t score,” Koeman said in his prematch comments.
Ronaldo had limited touches in the final third through the opening 10 minutes, while Messi connected early in the danger zone for Barcelona, only to have Juventus cut off his shooting lanes and force a wayward pass in his most threatening move.
Things changed soon after though, with Ronaldo earning a questionable penalty after a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge by Ronald Araujo. Ronaldo converted the ensuing penalty to give Juventus a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
After U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie doubled Juventus's lead with a sensational volley, Messi went to work, denied by a fine Gianluigi Buffon save in the 22nd minute.
Messi was denied again in the 36th, driving a low shot from 16 yards on frame, only for Buffon to make the save and snag the rebound.
Messi was also denied a penalty as the match hit first-half stoppage time, with the Argentine star going down under contact from McKennie in the box, only for the official to continue play. A VAR review confirmed the no-call, with the contact deemed incidental as McKennie appeared to trip over himself.
The penalty gods remained on Juventus's side at the start of the second half, when a VAR review revealed a handball on Clement Lenglet that gifted the visitors another spot kick. Ronaldo took it and converted for his second goal of the day, making it 3-0 and putting Juventus in position to win the group.
With Ronaldo working on a hat trick, Buffon netted himself a hat trick of saves vs. Messi, turning away his 65th-minute chance to pull one back for the hosts.
Buffon made it four stops in the 78th minute, saving Messi's relatively tame, albeit accurate, free kick from 30 yards out, and he denied Messi again in the 90th with Barcelona looking to salvage anything from the match.
Ronaldo, now 35, and Messi, 33, are the top two scorers in the history of the Champions League competition, with Ronaldo's 134 goals (in 174 matches) bettering Messi's 118 (in 147 games). In head-to-head games in all competitions, Messi and his teams still have the edge to the tune of a 16-11-9 record. Messi has scored 22 goals and had 12 assists in those 36 matches for club (34) and country (two), while Ronaldo has scored 19 goals and assisted on one goal in that time.
The previous time they faced off in the Champions League was in the semifinals in 2011, when Barcelona won, 3-1 on aggregate, en route to winning the title.
Overall, they've combined for over 1,400 goals for club and country (752 for Ronaldo, 712 for Messi) and over 500 assists (300 for Messi, 221 for Ronaldo). Ronaldo's five Ballon d'Or awards are only bettered by Messi's six, and their clubs have won dozens of trophies with the stars as the centerpieces. Their current clubs have endured some atypical struggles this season, though. Barcelona is ninth in La Liga, some 12 points behind first-place Atletico Madrid through 10 games, while Juventus is fourth in Serie A, six points behind first-place AC Milan. Messi was clear this summer about his desire to leave the only club he's ever known as a pro, while Ronaldo's name has even been batted around the transfer rumor mill as Juventus ponders its way forward.
Regardless of their uncertain futures, these two giants were able to share the field for at least one more time.