Juventus believe they can win the Champions League with Cristiano Ronaldo, but they had to start by beating Valencia 2-0 without him after he was controversially sent off on his debut in the competition for the Italian champions on Wednesday.
A tearful Ronaldo left the pitch in disbelief in the 29th minute, having aimed a petulant, but seemingly harmless, kick at Valencia defender Jeison Murillo, prompting referee Felix Brych to brandish the red card.
Ronaldo dropped to the floor like the entire tournament was lost but Juve showed more composure, Miralem Pjanic scoring twice from the penalty spot to clinch a comfortable win.
Valencia were even awarded a third spot-kick of the match deep into injury-time but Daniel Parejo missed.
It remains to be seen how UEFA judge Ronaldo’s offence, and dissent, but he is set to miss the next European game at home to Young Boys on October 2. After that comes the more threatening double-header against Manchester United.
Valencia’s fans celebrated Ronaldo’s dismissal at the Estadio Mestalla like a goal had been scored but, in truth, their team missed a golden chance to gain a foothold in Group H.
Instead, Ronaldo’s absence had little effect. The Italians won and won with ease.
“Come on Cristiano, give us Europe,” read the headline in Gazzetta dello Sport. “You could say he’s increased the players’ desire to prove themselves,” Massimiliano Allegri said. “He’s raised the bar for everybody.”
They proved themselves here. Juventus have claimed seven Serie A titles in a row but the Champions League is the one they want. They last won that in 1996 when Ronaldo was 11 and still playing youth football for Nacional.
Allegri is no stranger to this tournament either, with 77 games on the touchline, 77 more than Marcelino, who has given Valencia fans something to cheer again during his 14 months as coach.
They lined the streets outside just to witness the buses pull in, booing the visitors and Ronaldo, in particular. They jeered him during the warm-up too. Ronaldo replied by banging a ball into the open net from two yards.
After all, Valencia’s last game in the Champions League was Gary Neville’s first as manager and there have been four more in charge since.
Jose Gaya and Parejo were the only players left here from that night but change has not yet bridged the gap with Europe’s elite. That much was clear.
Ronaldo started brightly, with an ambitious shot from distance, and then had a hand in teeing up two glorious chances, crossing for Federico Bernardeschi to set up Sami Khedira, before misfiring into the path of Mario Mandzukic six yards out. Each fluffed their lines.
Valencia had openings too but lacked punch. Michy Batshuayi, on his first start for the club, twisted round Giorgio Chiellini but was denied at the near post.
Then the moment the match will be remembered for. Ronaldo let frustration get the better of him and Murillo made the most of it, falling instantly. Brych was convinced.
But instead of capitalising, Valencia twice capitulated. First, Parejo missed a high ball and kicked Joao Cancelo before Murillo took a risk by bundling down Leonardo Bonucci.
Pjanic stepped up for both spot-kicks and scored both, the first on the stroke of half-time, the next six minutes after.
Valencia probed but even when Daniele Rugani collided with Gabriel for a third penalty, Parejo’s shot was saved by Wojciech Szczesny. There was never any hint of a comeback.