Zidane had looked much the more confident during the pre-game preparations, arguing that even though Madrid have had a woeful time of it in La Liga and the Copa del Rey so far this season, they would return to their best once the biggest competition of all came along.
That looked wishful thinking for much of last night’s game at the Bernabeu, with PSG looking much fresher and smarter and deservedly taking the lead after 33 minutes when midfielder Julien Rabiot was unmarked to thrash to the net after Madrid’s defence had been carved open by Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
PSG’s €222m world record man Neymar was easily the most influential player on show, coping admirably with the constant jeering from the home crowd as well as physical treatment from the Madrid defence.
Everything his team did went through his bright yellow boots, and strike partner Edinson Cavani should really have taken a chance laid on just before half-time.
But just when it seemed the Ligue 1 side were in control of the tie, their inexperience let Madrid back into it.
Ronaldo had not been able to take three different chances from open play, before 20-year-old holding midfielder Giovani Lo Celso offered him a chance from the spot which he gleefully accepted for 1-1.
Into the second half and PSG were still broadly looking the better team, and Neymar the best player on the park.
The Bernabeu’s apprehension was loudly apparent whenever the Brazilian got the ball, and he laid on a chance for Mbappe that the teenager really should have taken.
The social media superstar seemed too keen to appear unselfish, but in the end he was unable to really stamp his personality on the game.
Madrid were really rocking now, looking like a team in need of renewal, with old stagers Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos holding them in the game almost through force of personality.
Then Zidane made an extra bold tactical change, deciding to load up on attacking talent by sending on all of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, and Lucas Vazquez in a very open 4-2-4 shape.
That seemed likely to leave his team even more open to the pace of Neymar and Mbappe, but the former galactico’s bravery was repaid.
There was more than a touch of fortune about Ronaldo’s second goal with just seven minutes remaining, but the 33-year-old still knows all about being in the right place at the right time.
It was created by his team’s youngest attacking starlet Asensio, a 21-year-old who has not been used too often lately, but provided the spark of inspiration which turned things his team’s way last night.
Madrid did not then sit back to defend their lead.
Not many left-backs find themselves up in the opposition penalty area at 2-1 ahead in a Champions League first leg. But Marcelo was just eight yards out to smash home a third goal with time almost up, showing exactly how to press home and advantage when you get one.
For PSG, this was not too dissimilar to last year against Barcelona, when they had one of Europe’s really top teams on the ropes, but were unable to push home their advantage. This was not as dramatic as the collapse at the Camp Nou 12 months ago, and there is still the second leg to come, but the Qatari-backed team look set for another year of European frustration.
Meanwhile, Madrid remain on course to be the first team since the mid 1970s to win three consecutive European cups.
Zidane’s side may no longer be capable of controlling games for 90 minutes, but they still have a huge amount of character and hunger, along the firepower to go toe to toe with any side left in the competition.
Navas, Nacho, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo.
Areola, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Yuri, Verratti, Lo Celso, Rabiot, Mbappe-Lottin, Cavani, Neymar.
Lucas for Casemiro 79, Asensio for Isco 79, Bale for Benzema 68.
Draxler for Lo Celso 85, Meunier for Cavani 66.
Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).