(By Rahul Pandey)
Juventus vs Real Madrid
“Cross from the right hand side, he tries to make some contact…..ohhhhhhh what a goal that is!”, said the Sky Sports commentator as he witnessed something that was too hard to be described in words. He knew it was a football game but that particular moment was something beyond. Within 3 seconds he saw people near him standing and giving a thunderous ovation. It was hard to believe that some 50,000 fans in Turin had risen up to applaud a goal that was against their team. It was possibly one of the most beautiful moments in UEFA Champions League history, all thanks to one Portuguese genius, Cristiano Ronaldo. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. It has been quite simple for CR7 lately.
Juve were supposed to be a challenge for Real but the only mistake was that they chose the European stage, which is the worst case scenario for any team as the European Champions have made the competition more of a daily meal than a luxurious desire.
The game started at the Juventus Stadium with the home side having problems of their own as Miralem Pjanic was on the bench, facing suspension. Real on the other hand were having too many attacking options to choose from, but Zidane opted for Isco alongside Ronaldo and Benzema.
The game started with Juventus running straight towards the Real goal, determining their interest issues. However, 30 seconds fast forward and the counter attack on the other side of the pitch left them trailing 1-0, 3 minutes into the game. The goal by who else, but Cristiano Ronaldo. Orchestrated by Isco on the left hand side of the box, the pass was actually meant for the Karim Benzema, however Ronaldo came from behind and with the faintest of touches got his 3rd goal past Gianluigi Buffon in last 93 minutes.
It was something that Real works so much on the training ground. A strategy that has bore sweet fruits for them especially in an away leg. Hit the opposition hard on the counter early on so that their whole game plan gets thwarted.
But the Old lady of Italy pushed back Madrid for the rest of the first half, led by the Argentinian, Paulo Dybala. The 24-year old made full use of the 48% possession that Juve had in the first half as he tried to open some space while running down from the right hand side. However the Italian side looked far from convincing in the final third of the pitch as they barely made use of the chances created.
Gianluigi Buffon also enjoyed a comaparitively unoccupied 42 minutes of the first half, apart from the Toni Kross shot from just outside the box that cannoned off the bar and went behind the goal. Had that been a little low, it would’ve been another one in the bag for Zidane’s men.
The second half started with the same flair in attack by the Juventus players. Dybala was time and again asking questions from the Real Madrid Centre-halves and it paid off some 14 minutes into the second half, when skipper Sergio Ramos shoved off the left-winger from behind to earn a yellow and was ruled out of the second leg.
But the game was just about to take a 180 degree turn. Juventus were throwing in all the bodies out in the other half of the pitch, when they lost the ball deep in the Madrid half which resulted in a counter, with a 2 vs 2 situation. Buffon and Chiellini fumbled just in front of their goal, but thanks to Gigi’s experience he got back quickly into the position. But the ball was still with Ronaldo who layed it on for Lucas Vasquez to blast one onto the goal, which was yet again saved by Buffon. It was then that magic took place. Carvajal’s cross and Ronaldo scored one of the most beautiful goals, possibly the best of this season.
3 minutes later, Juve suffered another blow to their jaw, as Paulo Dybala who was already on a yellow, received a red card for what was an unwilling challenge against Ramos.
The tie was already over. 2 away goals and Azzuri’s best player was out for the rest of the night alongside the Madrid leg.
Real it seemed were far from done. Marcelo who was operating in gear 1 for the whole night, switched to 5 within moments and displayed a sensational 1-2 touch stuff with Ronaldo just outside to box, to get a one-on-one with Buffon; calmly lifting it above the Goalkeeper and running the ball into the goal to make it Mission Impossible 7, feat. Juventus.
The tie verdict: There is no discussion needed here. The 12-time European champions are into the semifinal and back to their very best. Juventus will miss Dybala in the second leg and with the number of shots that they have had on target, it only is a question of how many goals they concede without answering one back in the cathedral of European football, Santiago Bernabeu.
Sevilla vs Bayern Munich:
It was supposed to be routine drill for F.C. Bayern Munich. They took the flight from Munich to Sevilla on Sunday morning, had their match training on the following day, made it to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium an hour and a half ago and performed all the pre match presentaries with a smile on their faces. The Bavaria boss, Jupp Heynckes had said the previous weekend, “We are facing a side that is as good as Real Madrid and Barcelona.”
One might think he was exaggerating it a little too much. But as the referee blew his whistle and the game kicked off, it bacame clear to the German Champions, that nothing short of a 100% would give them a first-leg advantage against one of the most stubborn sides in Europe.
The La Liga side gave Bayern all sorts of trouble in the first half as they made ammends to get a goal, even though they had only 40% of the possession.
The first clear chance in the game came to Pablo Sarabia in the 19th minute, who got a 1 vs 1 against Ulreich, however he managed to place the shot wide. Bayern were trying to vie for more of the ball but it was their opponents who were creating more chances.
The goal had to come, but it came in quite a controversial manner. In the 31st minute Pablo Sarabia controlled a long ball inside the Bayern box and made a turn to his left to make some space. But while doing so he got his forearm into play, which the referee clearly didn’t see. The Spaniard made full use of this and took a shot from his left boot, that ended up in the top corner.
It didn’t took the German champions long to bounce back, thanks to a Frank Ribery cross five minutes later that was deflected big time, by Jesus Navas and ended up in his own net. It was sad to witness a 36 minute domination end up in such an unconvincing way.
Bayern completed their comeback, thanks again to Frank Ribery. This time it was Thiago Alcantara who pounced onto the Frenchman’s cross on the far post to give Bayern the much needed away goal advantage.
The last 26 minutes were contained well by the Germans who enjoyed 58% of the ball possession and made sure that Sevilla couldn’t muster a way back into the game as it ended 2-1 in Spain.
The tie verdict: Bayern Munich are a foot-and-a-half into the semifinal. They have a home leg up ahead in a 90,000 capacitated Allianz Arena. Sevilla however have been known for mastering upsets, but unless Bayern step a foot willingly on the banana or face unfortunate injury issues, the Spanish side is in for a tough 90 minutes in Germany.