Los Blancos set for date in Kiev, on course to make further history
This was a club whose fans were struggling to understand how the club’s invincibility in Europe’s elite competition had waned for over a decade.
If anyone had told Real Madrid fans back then, that they would once again become elite in Europe, and start achieving some significant feats in the UEFA Champions League in years to come, they might have disagreed. Well, fast forward to now and see how well Real Madrid have impressed in the UCL recently.
Three UCL finals in three years! Alongside a very likely possibility of three UCL wins in three years. However, many would have thought a different scenario would have panned out after just 3 minutes in the return leg of the UCL semi-final tie between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Some fans would have remembered the nerve-wracking moments and tension of the last UCL encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu when Juventus came visiting, after Kimmich once again slotted the ball past Navas to the chagrin of the Real Madrid faithful
However, Real remained unfazed and unperturbed after the early opener and restored parity 7 minutes later. If there was ever a night for under-fire Frenchman Karim Benzema to come alive and produce the goods in goals for Real Madrid? This was it. Benzema headed the ball into the back of the net from a peach of a cross from Marcelo to put the hosts on course for Kiev.
It was an open game and Keylor Navas’ performance on the night was good enough to ensure that Real had a foothold on the game after making decent saves off the boots of Muller, David Alaba, and Corentin Tolisso in the course of the game.
However, a game like this, with that much tension, was sure to provide spectators with some drama, and it came from the most unexpected of circumstances in the 1st minute of the second half.
Bayern goalkeeper, Sven Ulreich, miscued a pass from Tolisso before a goal-hungry looking Benzema anticipated a mistake, saw it, and pounced on the ball to slot in the second for Madrid on the night.
The mistake from Ulreich can easily pass for one of the biggest mistakes on a UCL night, all thanks to the high pressing from Real Madrid that saw Tolisso have no choice but to pass back to his goalie.
Where has this Benzema been all this while? What a response to critics, and hopefully it’s not a one-off. Well, Jupp Heynckes’ men were not giving up that easily and the opportunity came when Real Madrid loanee James Rodriguez saw his shot ricochet off an unlucky Varane before falling nicely for him again to coolly slot past Keylor Navas in the 62nd minute.
All was now set for a grand finish. But we learned from the Juventus game that Real have mastered the art of seeing out games when the going gets tough.
Juventus scored 3, needed 1 more to go through but couldn’t get it, although they were on the ascendency. Bayern had equalized the game 2 all and needed 1 more to go through, and also couldn’t get it.
That’s one decent character from Zinedine Zidane’s men, but they can do without putting their fans in a position where they have their hearts almost jumping out of their mouths.
Real Madrid now await the winners of the tie between Roma and Liverpool as they proceed to a final where they are overwhelming favorites on both paper and pedigree, as well as on recent happenings in the UCL.