Cristiano Ronaldo displays the killer instinct against Atletico Madrid

MADRID – “Atleti or death,” the Atletico Madrid away supporters sadly sang from their little corner of the giant Santiago Bernabeu after their side fell behind 3-0 to Real Madrid. Seemingly, Cristiano Ronaldo hadn’t even given them the choice, as his hat trick seemingly killed off Atletico Madrid’s hopes in Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal first leg.

Ronaldo’s goals could just as well have been three stab wounds, with the third serving as the lethal puncture from which there is likely no chance of survival. He killed Atleti. And now Diego Simeone’s men face the daunting challenge of overturning a 3-0 deficit at home. Add the fact that Real Madrid has scored at least one goal in every match during the current campaign, and, more than likely, Atletico Madrid will need five goals in next Wednesday’s second leg to have any realistic chance of advancing past the defending European champions.

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Sure, anything is possible. But Atleti don’t have Neymar or Lionel Messi to outscore Real Madrid in that manner.

Messi may go down as the greatest player of all time, but Ronaldo should end his career as the greatest goal scorer of all time. It’s a subtle difference. Because, as Ronaldo moves further and further off the wing and more and more into the box, the record-breaking Portuguese is seemingly becoming an even purer talisman as he ages. Even if he’s slowing down physically, his goal scoring isn’t.

Tuesday night served as the latest reminder that the 32-year-old is still one of the greatest goal scorers to ever kick a ball. Now with seven Champions League hat tricks, Ronaldo is tied with Messi, and while the Barcelona star is his own type of monster, Real Madrid’s No. 7 is a special beast that has reduced his critics’ stubborn doubts into nothing more than reckless jealously. Ronaldo also became the first player to record three Champions League hat tricks in the knockout rounds, meaning he tends to turn up when it matters most.

Thanks to Ronaldo, Real can finalize their travel plans for Cardiff. (Reuters)

Even though it’s 90 minutes from being official, Ronaldo and Real are headed to yet another Champions League final. And Los Blancos will surely walk into the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as the favorites over either Juventus or Monaco.

Suddenly, the La Liga and Champions League double seems attainable more than ever for Real Madrid, which is looking to become the first side in Champions League history to win back-to-back titles. For that, Real can thank Ronaldo, who broke new ground as the first player to score 100 Champions League goals. The argument that Ronaldo is the greatest goal scorer of all time only grows.

His hat trick against Atleti was a stark difference to the languid, lost performance he put in against Barcelona in El Clasico only 10 days earlier. After every missed chance on that Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeu, though, the fans applauded their hero with the hopes that he would redeem himself sooner rather than later.

On Tuesday, the hero paid back his loyal subjects. And with every Ronaldo goal, Real Madrid supporters celebrated louder and louder, while Atletico Madrid’s away fans grew quieter and quieter.

While the Atletico Madrid supporters are a resilient bunch, Tuesday evening seemed to hurt a bit more. While El Clasico tends to bring about an international crowd and the payday is often too big not to sell tickets, the Madrid derby featured what looked to be an all-white-clad sea of supporters, save for that little quadrant of red and white singing proudly despite the dire situation facing them.

Surely, there is no way back from being down 3-0 to Real, and getting tossed out of the Champions League by the hated city rivals for the fourth consecutive season will be a bitter pill to swallow. Atletico still has 90 more minutes to play at the Vicente Calderon to make its exit official. Last year, Ronaldo struck the winning penalty to beat Atleti in the Champions League final, but somehow, Tuesday’s hat trick had to be even more soul crushing.

Hearing the shouts of “Atleti or death,” one Real Madrid supporter laughed and said, “OK, death.”

Shahan Ahmed is a soccer columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow Shahan on Twitter: @ShahanLA