When they need a big goal, Real Madrid does not turn to Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale. They turn to their captain fantastic and once again Sergio Ramos delivered as his two goals within six second half minutes put Real Madrid into the Champions League quarter-finals.
Until Ramos struck, Real Madrid were in trouble. Napoli had dominated the first half and took a deserved lead through Dries Mertens to make 3-2 on aggregate, but Napoli had the all important away goal, and were one goal away from a famous victory.
But Zinedine Zidane’s side, who had forced only one corner in the first half but won two at the start of the second 45 minutes and Ramos rose to head home both Toni Kroos kicks, the second via a deflection off Mertens which was given as an own goal by UEFA.
Once again Ramos had used his head as Real Madrid were losing theirs. They had started the game badly with a weak clearance from Marcelo and a weak punch from Keylor Navas.
Napoli poured forward roared on by the Sao Paolo stadium that had been filling up for the previous five hours.
The home supporters had plenty to shout about with five shots from Napoli in the first 15 minutes. None of them were on target but Mertens changed that on 24 minutes with his 17th goal in his last 16 games.
Marek Hamsik found space in behind Casemiro and with Dani Carvajal missing in action Pepe did not know whether to go to the man on the ball or stay stuck to Mertens.
His indecision gave the Belgian just enough time to fire past Navas as soon as he was played in.
Real Madrid almost responded immediately but Cristiano Ronaldo’s shot came back off of Reina’s left-hand post.
Real Madrid’s record scorer had come into the game having failed to score in his last five Champions League matches – his worst run for the club.
Madrid were creating chances at the other end but arguing among themselves as they missed them.
Earlier Gareth Bale had crossed from the right and Karim Benzema had back-pedaled into Ronaldo with both jumping for the cross at the same time.
Lorenzo Insigne could have got the second for Napoli before the break. He got between Casemiro and Pepe once more but Navas saved.
Mertens hit the frame of the goal and Hamsik forced a saved from Navas at his near post. The Spanish press had dubbed this game ‘Angels in Hell’. The Sao Paulo atmosphere was certainly hot and Madrid were melting.
Napoli had 11 shots in the first half and if they had been more accurate Real Madrid would have been out by half-time.
The hope for Madrid was that statistic about them having scored in each of their last 46 games would carry them through. If they could score, everything would change. Ramos, and Mertens inadvertently, duly took care of business.
Former Juventus striker Alvaro Morata climbed off the bench to get the third in injury time but by then the game had been won.
A victory earned not by Ronaldo, or Bale, or Benzema, but by Ramos. He has scored in two winning finals and his performance in Napoli keeps Madrid’s dream of becoming the first team to retain the Champions League very much alive.