It was never going to be a dull night at the Santiago Bernabeu. Tackles flying in at all angles, goalscoring opportunities presented left, right and centre and the army of Los Blancos fans trying to invoke strength and spirit into their heroes. Mourinho called for a miracle at his press conference, stressing that his players needed intensity and aggression and although they displayed those characteristics in abundance in what can only be described as a dizzyingly entertaining Champions League tie, the Madrid heroes fell just short.
Approaching the final whistle, Lars Bender lay semi-paralysed on a stretcher, Sergio Ramos tried to rally the crowd, Real Madrid substitutes and members of the coaching staff pointed maniacally at their wrists as referee Howard Webb could only look on in amazement at what was unfolding before his eyes. Madrid had just completed two thirds of the miracle Mourinho called for. The whole match had been defined by a certain lack of cutting edge in Madrid, a failure to finish a great chance, a refusal to accept a gift and to become a hero. In the end, it cost them a place in this year’s Champions League final and leaves the world’s supreme superpower continuing its campaign for European re-conquest for another year, at least.
Madrid flew out of the blocks like the Grand National, portraying a sense of urgency which had been non-existent in last week’s 4-1 defeat by Dortmund. Gonzalo Higuain was preferred to Karim Benzema to lead the line up front and he was presented with a golden opportunity to get Madrid off to a flying start. However, Ozil’s disguised pass was reversed so quickly that Higuain took a second too long to sort his feet out and assure himself that he was onside and could only prod the ball straight off Weidenfeller. It didn’t stop there. The pressure from Madrid was relentless, intense and conducted in frenzied style. On the twenty minute-mark, they really should have been 1-0 up. Mesuit Ozil failed to turn finisher from provider when he swept clean through bearing down on Dortmund’s net only to open his body up and drag his shot horribly wide of the near post. He looked to the sky in disbelief, partly because he dared not look at an incensed Ronaldo who was waiting for a tap-in and partly due to the fact that he knew that finish was just not acceptable at this level and in these circumstances.
Dortmund were a shadow of the side that thumped Madrid last week, but that was to be expected in the intimidating Madrid theatre against a multitude of talent backed up by 90,000 fans. They were rattled and reeling in the first ten minutes, lacking communication between the keeper and central defenders while Schmelzer was the culprit of allocating space for Ozil, Ronaldo and co. to roam freely into. They lived dangerously, not bravely, but luckily for the Germans they were not punished in the manner usually executed by Madrid.
The recurring motif of the night constituted a shocking lack of finishing. Ronaldo blazed a shot over the bar in the opening minutes and launched a free-kick higher than a golf ball minutes before the interval. It was not night. Nor was it Lewandowski’s, however, as the star from last week appeared rattled by the physical rumblings of Ramos. The Madrid defender deputising for Pepe was told to stay close to Lewandowski and he did just that, arms in face included. Lewandowski linked up in the usual slick style with winged-deputies Reus and Blazczyskowski but failed to find the back of the net in the devastating fashion of six days ago. The Polish international scuffed a shot after the break from a corner swung in but his greatest opportunity fell a mere two minutes later. Clear sight of goal, Lewandowski beat Diego Lopez in the Madrid net but crashed his shot onto the crossbar and it skipped away to safety for Madrid. Interestingly, in a mirror of each other, Lewandowski and Ronaldo both reminded each other of their impotency on the night when they both failed to convert a volley. Mario Gotze was subbed off in the tenth minute and Madrid switched off momentarily while the cross was sneaked in towards Lewandowski. However, as everyone looked on expecting the net to bulge, he chest the ball into control only to blast his shot against Lopez. The ball was thrown up the pitch instantly to another striker of breathtaking prowess; Ronaldo. Shockingly, Ronaldo re-enacted Lewandowski’s squandered chance to leave Madrid frustrated and still looking for that elusive opener.
That opener did come, in the 82nd minute, through substitute Karim Benzema. Perhaps relieving himself of a few critical interpretations of his contribution to the match, Benzema was in the right prtedatory position to pounce on Ozil’s low crossed drilled right across the net. Benzema never misses these, and he duly obliged to set the place alight. Suddenly, the sapping belief of the Bernabeu patrons was re-ignited and they once again believed. The place exploded like Vesuvius when Ramos blasted the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 on the night. Suddenly, Madrid were on the brink of a miraculous comeback. On the verge of writing themselves into the famous folkore of a great club. Defying the odds and the persistent, unified effort of Dortmund, Madrid never gave up the chase and rewarded for their efforts.
The culmination of the tie was a raucous one. Confusion flooded through the touchline as the 4th official failed to present the stoppage time upon the 90 minute-mark while Mourinho flailed his arms about at what he perceived to be an act by Lars Bender in falling to the ground and requiring treatment following a collision with the tirelessly brilliant Modric. A well-timed ploy to take the sting out or a genuine injury, it added to the frenzy that was the conclusion of this match.
In the end, Madrid were unable to complete the comeback and set themselves on the way to Wembley. Mourinho announced at his press conference that elimination for Madrid would be universally construed as “his failure.” That is certainly not the case. His provactive words warranted a response from his side but when it came down to it, they were unable to convert great opportunities to turn the tie in their favour and were left ruing their mistakes. Falling to their knees at the final whistle, surrounded by the ecstatic men in yellow and black, Real knew they could have made this night historic and unforgettable. The continuing soundtrack of the night was made up by roaring encouragement from large portions of the Bernabeu crowd which was immediately proceeded by groans of disappointment and hands thrown onto heads in disbelief and disillusionment.
For Dortmund, they were strong and organised over the two legs and thoroughly deserve their place in the final. It is a watershed for a young team produced through the productive youth academy at the club and the patriarchal genius of Jurgen Klopp. The German takeover of an “English” Champions League final is half-complete, Bayern look set to complete it tomorrow night in the Nou Camp. Madrid are still looking to recapture that magic in Europe in a competition they have not won since Zidane volleyed them into hysterics against Dortmund’s compatriots in 2002. They were close tonight, but it is Dortmund’s time.