Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid smash Atletico 3-0 in Champions League semifinal first leg

For the fourth year in a row, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are facing off in the knockout stage of the Champions League. And for the fourth straight year, theirs promised to be a tight and tense encounter. In 2016, Real won the final on penalties. In 2014, it claimed the trophy after extra time. The year in between, the whites vanquished their cross-town rivals on a 1-0 aggregate score in the quarterfinals.

Tuesday’s first leg of their semifinal bout, however, was different. Real prevailed 3-0, the first time in this five-game standoff that any game had been won by more than a single goal – and just the second time a match was won in regulation.

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Ronaldo got all three goals, after he got five of Real’s six in the quarterfinal victory over Bayern Munich. It kept his side undefeated against Atletico in this European stretch, underscoring the difference between the glitter and attacking might of the 11-time champions and the gritty defense of the perennial ugly ducklings.

Real Madrid was largely dominant, predictably vacuuming up possession and the chances against Diego Simeone’s counter-punching side. The Argentine’s plan to reach a third final in four years didn’t work, as his team lacked its signature sharpness and bite, lagging a step behind Zinedine Zidane’s team all night.

Indeed, Atleti was sort of fortunate not to go behind by more goals sooner, after Real’s early barrage of chances. All the same, this matchup is surely lost, even if half of the playing time remains next Wednesday at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon.

In the seventh minute, Dani Carvajal slithered through the box and poked a shot at goalkeeper Jan Oblak, which he pawed into the path of Karim Benzema, who couldn’t quite get his bundled effort on target.

Three minutes later, Carvajal’s cross was cleared to Casemiro, who hoisted it back in with a strangely spinning ball he kicked into the ground. Ronaldo rose above Stefan Savic and nodded it past Oblak.

Oblak prevented a disastrous early second goal when he parried Raphael Varane’s header. And, seconds later, Atletico got its best chance of the game, but Keylor Navas was alert and beat Kevin Gameiro to the ball when the French striker was played through the back line.

Before the half hour, Ronaldo pulled out some shimmies and shuffles on the left flank and got a cross off to Benzema, who bicycled his shot inches high.

Then, Atletico would finally record its lone shot of the first half when the otherwise anonymous Antoine Griezmann lifted in a free kick for Diego Godin, but the Uruguayan couldn’t get his sliding shot down below the bar.

After it was outshot 11-1 in the first half, Atletico gained a foothold for some of the second, but was still barely a factor in Real’s third.

And Real would get the next goal as well, taking an enormous leap towards becoming the first team in the Champions League era to win the tournament in back-to-back years. In the 73rd minute, Benzema held off Godin and laid off for Ronaldo, who evaded Filipe Luis’s tackle and hammered in his half-volley a split-second before Savic’s desperate lunge could block it.

That place in the final was all but confirmed when, in the 86th minute, Ronaldo calmly passed home the third on the cutback from Lucas Vazquez.

That made it 103 Champions League goals for Ronaldo’s storied career, extending his own record – 52 of which came in the knockout stages. And it makes Real the favorite to win a record 12th European title, which would be five more than any other club.

It also meant that Atletico’s challenge to the juggernaut across town is now surely dead, after two lost finals, a lost quarterfinal and a soon-to-be lost semi.

Real Madrid, as ever, will have the last word in Madrid.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.