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Iconic: Five of the greatest hat-tricks in Champions League history

The UEFA Champions League returns this evening with the quarter-finals set to begin, each of the last eight harbouring ambitions of being crowned champions of Europe next month.

It remains the pinnacle of club football and the ultimate for the world’s finest footballers, the ability to decide games at the highest level the difference between the good and the great.

As the action prepares to begin this evening we’ve looked at some iconic individual moments, revisiting the most memorable hat-tricks ever scored on the Champions League stage.

Here are five of the greatest hat-tricks in Champions League history.

Ronaldo Nazario v Manchester United

Ronaldo Nazario’s individual brilliance saw him score one of the Champions League’s great hat-tricks in 2002/03, a performance which earned him a standing ovation from the Manchester United supporters whose dreams he had just ended in spectacular style.

Real Madrid’s Galacticos travelled to Old Trafford for the second leg of their quarter-final tie with a 3-1 advantage, though needed the brilliance of the Brazilian to ensure their passage into the last four.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side may have triumphed 4-3 on the night, but it was an evening which belonged to one man as Ronaldo scored each of the visitor’s three goals in scintillating style.

United simply couldn’t live with Ronaldo’s blend of speed, skill and sharp finishing ability, the forward racing in behind the defence before firing home from just inside the penalty area for his first.

He netted twice more early in the second half to put the Spanish side in control, tapping home from close range following a free-flowing team move before lashing home a spectacular strike from distance to seal his hat-trick.

United exited the competition 6-5 on aggregate, though their fans could only stand to admire one of the game’s greats producing a performance to savour.

Ronaldo Nazario’s hat-trick against Manchester United

Wayne Rooney v Fenerbahce

All eyes were on Wayne Rooney ahead of his Manchester United debut, the teenager having arrived in a big-money deal from Everton after starring for England at the 2004 European Championship.

Rooney was handed his first start as the Red Devils welcomed Fenerbahce to Old Trafford, an evening few inside the famous ground will ever forget as a precocious talent inspired an emphatic 6-2 victory.

Rooney was irrepressible and announced himself to the Champions League stage with a hat-trick, becoming just the fourth player to score three times on their competition bow and the second-youngest hat-trick scorer after Raul.

This was the 18-year-old’s first performance since breaking his metatarsal at Euro 2004, a tournament which saw him explode as arguably the world’s most exciting young talent.

The version of Rooney which tormented defences in Portugal was on show quickly in a United shirt, dispatching his first in fine fashion after being played in by Ruud van Nistelrooy.

His second was taken in similar confident style as he manoeuvred a shooting opportunity to fire in a low finish from just outside the box, before stepping up to bend home a wonderful curling free-kick.

It was a goal that sent the home crowd into raptures and announced Rooney as a genuine star.

Robert Lewandowski v Real Madrid

Amongst the finest individual performances in Champions League history, Robert Lewandowski’s destruction of Real Madrid in the 2012/13 semi-finals proved a devastating display of finishing.

Lewandowski had scored 30 goals in all competitions the previous season as Borussia Dortmund were crowned champions of Germany, though it was the following campaign that saw the forward establish himself as one of Europe’s elite.

The Poland international scored 10 goals in 13 appearances in the Champions League, including all four goals in a 4-1 thrashing of the record winners in the last four.

It was a masterclass in finishing from Lewandowski as he netted a first from close range on the stretch, before restoring Dortmund’s lead following Cristiano Ronaldo’s equaliser for the Spaniards.

His hat-trick goal was the one that lives longest in the memory, the confidence oozing through the striker’s veins as he produced a smart drag-back inside the penalty area before lashing the ball high into the net.

Lewandowski made it four from the penalty spot to leave Real Madrid with an almost impossible task ahead of the return fixture, becoming the first player in Champions League history to score four times in a semi-final.

Golazo Merchants: A man of flawless technique, David Beckham

Cristiano Ronaldo v Atletico Madrid

Cometh the hour, cometh Cristiano – a man who has so often delivered when it matters most on the Champions League stage.

The all-time record goalscorer in Champions League history has no shortage of defining moments in continental competition, though this hat-trick against Atletico Madrid stands amongst his finest performances.

Juventus headed into the second leg of their last-16 clash trailing 2-0 in the tie, a formidable prospect against Diego Simeone’s side given their notorious reputation as one of Europe’s stingiest defences.

Atletico had not conceded a goal in five fixtures ahead of their trip to Turin and as anticipated lined up in militant defensive shape, only for the supernatural talents of Ronaldo to turn the tie on its head.

Ronaldo rose highest to head home at the back post and give Juventus hope before the break, before another fine header was adjudged to have crossed the line by goal-line technology to bring the scores level.

Ronaldo completed the comeback from the penalty spot four minutes from time, a special night for a special player who has shown his priceless match-winning ability on countless Champions League occasions.

Lucas Moura v Ajax

The 2018/19 edition of the Champions League proved to be one of the most enthralling tournaments in recent memory, a campaign full of shocks, surprises and incredible comebacks.

Liverpool and Tottenham contested the final after both sides sealed dramatic semi-final second leg results, overturning huge deficits to advance to an all-Premier League meeting in Madrid.

Spurs faced surprise package Ajax in the last four after the Dutch side had enjoyed a remarkable run to the semi-finals, eliminating holders Real Madrid and Juventus in emphatic fashion during the knockout stages.

Ajax’s run looked set to continue with a first final appearance since the mid-nineties after a first leg win in London, before scoring twice early in the return to take a commanding 3-0 aggregate lead.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side needed three goals in just 45 minutes at the Johan Cruyff Arena to progress to a first ever final, their hopes raised as Lucas Moura netted two quick-fire goals within the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Moura’s double created huge tension amongst the home side as Spurs edged towards an improbable comeback, one which was completed in the most dramatic of circumstances as the Brazilian’s 96th-minute winner sent the north London side through on away goals.

Read – Five times Lionel Messi lit up the Champions League

Read Also – Iconic Performances: The night Ronaldinho received a standing ovation at the Bernabeu

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