(By Rahul Pandey)
Real Madrid vs Juventus
A 3-0 away lead with a home leg to follow. What could have possibly gone wrong for the 12 time European Champions and the current title holders. Well, it seems like they didn’t follow much of what turned down against their all-time foes in Rome. Zinedine Zidane and co. survived a major trauma on Wednesday night, in front of some 87,000 Madridistas as the old lady from Italy almost managed to put up another shocker in UCL.
On the eve of the game, the Juventus boss Max Allegri had said, “They scored an away goal within 5 minutes, why can’t we?” And for the third consecutive UEFA Champions League game, the opening goal was scored by the team behind, within the first 6 minutes. This one came just 70 seconds into the game. A counter attack that earned the Bianconeri huge space which was utilized by former Real player Sami Khedira with a cross from the right hand side, met firmly by Mario Mandzukic. The game was on.
Real then looked to settle down into the game and to the surprise of many, Juve actually didn’t have a problem with that. A picture perfect strategy that was crafted well by the Juventus boss. It had happened in last year’s final in Cardiff when Juve had tried to forge pressure up front of Real, in order to avoid them from settling into the game, a mistake that many big teams make so often against Real and give away all of their plan and energy during the course. However, the Italian leaders were more than happy and confident to sit back and let Real come in the final third and that is where they defended brilliantly. Chiellini, Alex Sandro, Medhi Benatia were all monumental at the back. Real tried immensely to create an opening in the first half but couldn’t forge a way through. Such good was the defensive line, that even the Talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t given a space to take a shot on target.
Juve, on the other hand, looked more than dangerous on the counter as Real Madrid badly missed Sergio Ramos at the back. The pressure piling on the hosts paid up the guests with the second goal on the night in the 37th minute. Another cross from the right met by the same man, the no.9 and the Spanish capital was scared all the way back to the gates of hell.
The second half started with Real introducing two changes, Vasquez and Asensio in for Bale and Casemiro. It was clear Zizou wanted a goal. However, the perception on the other side of the field hadn’t changed one bit. The comeback was on the cards. Another Italian side eliminating a Spanish side, but this was bigger. This was Real Madrid. The biggest club on the planet.
And as it folded out, a major blooper was on course. In the 61st minute, Douglas Costa dipped a ball in which was casually handed by Navas and left Blaise Matuidi a yard ahead of the goal all alone, and he didn’t shy away from completing yet another mind-boggling comeback in UCL, second in two nights.
But the game was far from over. Real now came with full throttle towards the Juve net. Marcelo and Carvajal were both now on attacking duty more so than defensive. Juventus weren’t crafting many chances but they weren’t sitting back as well. Both the teams were looking to savage something out of the last moments in the game. And just when everyone thought it was all over, the final twist of the tale came win the 90+2 stoppage time.
A cross was whipped in perfectly by Carvajal from the right giving Vasquez a perfect vantage point to score with just Buffon to beat and that’s when Benatia came from behind and in an attempt to clear the ball kicked him in the chest. The referee awarded a final minute penalty to Real and just when the whole of Santiago Bernabeu went berserk, Gigi Buffon ran towards the ref, Michael Oliver and with all the frustration creeping in shoved him. Oliver it seemed was done and gave a rightly so red card to the 40-year old. It was complete chaos on the ground as Allegri argued with Ramos on the sidelines.
Juve had to switch Gonzalo Higuain with Wojciech Szczesny. It was the first piece of the action for the Czech Republic goalkeeper this season. And he was up against who else but Cristiano Ronaldo. After a long pause, as the referee blew his whistle Ronaldo scored the penalty past Szczesny in brand fashion as the Los Blancos erupted with pure jubilation. The referee gave an extra minute to Juve to try and forge something but that was it. Real had escaped a major nightmare. But this game will go down in the history as one of those peculiar fixtures where a team that commanded the game for 90 good minutes, lost the tie in the last 30 seconds.
Bayern Munich vs Sevilla
After the first leg win of 2-1, the game at Munich turned out to be a major disappointment for both sets of fans as Bayern Munich grounded out a 0-0 draw to see off Sevilla’s spirited challenge and reach the semi-finals.
The newly crowned German champions needed defensive grit to match to their usual attacking flair at a sold-out Allianz Arena.
Pablo Sarabia who missed a good chance in the first leg, wasted another one on the night as Bayern left-back Rafinha slid in to prevent the midfielder from shooting after a trademark quick break. Bayern also had their moments as Robert Lewandowski was denied twice in the first half by the goalkeeper and Jesus Navas.
It was only for the first time in 22 Champions league home games that Bayern had failed to score. Bayern winger Arjen Robben had warned his teammates against complacency in this game after winning the first leg 2-1 in Spain. But it was less a case of Bayern’s overconfidence and more of Sevilla’s self-belief and command of the ball which kept this compelling encounter in the balance for so long.
Vincenzo Montella’s side was ultimately left frustrated, none more so than Joaquin Correa, who was sent off in stoppage time as he slid in dangerously into Javi Martinez.
The result was ultimately what the Bavarians didn’t expect but it created yet another highlight for Jupp Heynckes’ side which are now undefeated in UCL so far under their new boss.
Bayern joined Real, Roma and Liverpool in the Semi-final draw that will take place on Friday in Bern, Switzerland.