It took just over six months, but Cristiano Ronaldo has won his first trophy with Juventus.
The Portuguese superstar led a dominant Juventus over longtime rivals AC Milan in the Italian Super Cup, bulleting in a header just after the hour mark to seal the win in the annual one-off meeting, which was controversially held at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Juve’s Douglas Costa and Joao Cancelo both went close during the first half in the Saudi port city, before a Blaise Matuidi strike was adjudged to have been offside. Ronaldo also narrowly missed an opportunity to score late in the first half, when his scissor kick bounced harmlessly wide.
Juve hearts were in their mouths just before and after the break, when Milan’s Hakan Calhanogl and Patrick Cutrone went close, Calhanogl forcing a save from Juve keeper Wojciech Szczesny, and the Italy forward’s shot smashing off the bar after evading Szczesny’s gloves after the restart.
So it was down to the talismanic striker, who had an uncharacteristically slow start to his Serie A career but has since scored 14 times in the league. He scored after the Milan defense was caught napping on the 61st minute, nodding on a punt from Miralem Pjanic.
Milan’s work to get back in the game was made harder when Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie was sent off ten minutes after Ronaldo’s header, and ultimately the Rossoneri couldn’t find a way back in.
As so often, the Madeira native popped up when it mattered — he’s now scored 19 times in 30 final appearances for both club and country and the win over Milan in Saudi Arabia means he’s won a super cup in four different leagues — Portugal, England, Spain and now Italy.
Juve haven’t exactly been slouches in the time since Ronaldo swapped the all-white of Real Madrid to the distinctive black and white kit of Juve — the Turin club holds a nine-point lead over second-placed Napoli in Serie A, but the club’s record signing has now delivered the club’s first Supercoppa since 2015.
The win took the Turin side to a record eight Supercoppa titles, one more than Tuesday’s opponents Milan.
In recent year the Italian Super Cup — traditionally the annual match between Italy’s Serie A winners and Coppa Italia champions — has been overseas in China, Libya, the US and Qatar.
The decision to hold the match in the hardline Islamic country prompted outrage from far-right members of Italy’s government.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s populist interior minister and deputy prime minister, says the decision to play the Italian Super Cup match between Juventus and AC Milan in Saudi Arabia is “disgusting” due to the restrictions placed on female fans.
Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right League party, condemned the fact that sections of the King Abdullah Sports City stadium for the January 16th game were reserved for men only.
In a Facebook Live video, Salvini, a Milan fan, said: “That the Italian Super Cup is played in an Islamic country where women can’t go to the stadium if they’re not accompanied by men is a sadness, a rubbish, I won’t watch the game.”
A Serie A spokesperson said sections designated for “singles” were reserved for men, while sections designed for “families” were mixed gender.