It took until almost the last kick of the game, but Real Madrid are through to the Champions League semi-finals after converting a stoppage time penalty over Juventus, scoring the aggregate tiebreaking goal to send them through 4-3 despite losing the match 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Juventus got off to a roaring start, with a top-class run and pass from ex-Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira setting up a shockingly easy finish for Mario Mandzukic less than 90 seconds into the match. With that much-needed early first goal in hand, that gave Juve the confidence they needed to go striding forward time and again to go looking for the three additional goals they needed.
Juventus needed an early goal and Mandzukic delivered!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 11, 2018
They lead 1-0 on the night, but Real Madrid still lead 3-1 on aggregate. pic.twitter.com/3X48J5C8hu
Of course, that also meant that Madrid went searching for a goal of their own, desperate to restore their three-goal aggregate lead, meaning that the game went wide open in a hurry, with a flurry of scoring chances at both ends of the pitch. Madrid had some quality scoring chances, but a series of top-notch saves from Gianluigi Buffon and one brave block by Miralem Pjanic that may have rearranged his face a tad bit meant that Juventus hung on long enough for Mandzukic to score a second time in the 37th minute, this one a header off a perfectly weighted cross from Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Mandzukic does it again!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 11, 2018
He heads home another one at the back post and this one is getting VERY interesting... pic.twitter.com/EGxXktD8Va
That goal narrowed Madrid’s aggregate lead to just one goal, and with Juventus looking like the stronger side in the run of play that meant that the hour was truly growing desperate for the defending Champions League winners. Coming out of half time, they made a double-switch that highlighted that desperation, bringing on Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez for Gareth Bale and Casemiro. Dropping a key midfielder and an athletic attacker capable of stretching Juventus’ defense was an incredible gamble, and one Zinedine Zidane very much needed to pan out.
The early stretch of the second half were very physical, with both teams buckling down knowing there was a huge fight to be had in the final 45 minutes. So between that and the sheer technical quality of the first two goals, it somehow made perfect sense that Madrid would concede on a couple of major mistakes, with a ball pinging loose in the box before Blaise Matuidi hammered it at goal. Keylor Navas appeared to have it covered, but inexplicably bobbled the ball, and its momentum took it into the back of the net for a shocking 61st minute equalizer.
WHAT A GAME!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 11, 2018
Matuidi pounces on Keylor Navas' mistake to put Juventus up 3-0 on the night and pull them level at 3 on aggregate! pic.twitter.com/5lO1U28miK
From there, it very much felt like the next goal would win the game, and both sides surged back and forth to try and get that goal for themselves. Giunluigi Buffon came up huge a couple of times to keep Real Madrid off the scoreboard as the hosts worked to try and salvage the match, but Juventus were regularly dangerous on the counter-attack as well, leading to an incredibly tense last few minutes of regulation.
How tense? So tense that during a frantic scramble in front of goal, Lucas Vazquez earned a very, very soft penalty in the final seconds of stoppage time, and Gianluigi Buffon was sent off with a straight red card for the ferocity of his protests, continuously bumping and manhandling English referee Michael Oliver while screaming at him. That meant that potentially the last kick of the game would be at reserve keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who was lined up against Cristiano Ronaldo — who scored to send Real Madrid to the Champions League semifinals, despite everything that happened during the rest of the match.
Ronaldo always delivers!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 11, 2018
His stoppage-time penalty denies Juventus the epic comeback bid and sends Real Madrid to their 8th straight UCL semifinal. pic.twitter.com/cZEqE5ubas
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Jesus Vallejo, Marcelo; Luka Modric (Mateo Kovacic 75’), Casemiro (Lucas Vazquez 46’), Toni Kroos; Isco; Gareth Bale (Marco Asensio 46’), Cristiano Ronaldo
Goals: Ronaldo (pen. 90’+7)
Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon (red 90’+4); Mattia De Sciglio (Stephan Lichtsteiner 17’), Mehdi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain (Wojciech Szczesny 90’+6), Mario Mandzukic
Goals: Mandzukic (2’, 37), Matuidi (61’)
Three things we saw
Where has this Sami Khedira been all season?
Part of the answer to this question is that Khedira has rarely been fully fit this season, but even when he has been fit, Khedira simply hasn’t been his usual efficient self. That is, except for in this tie, when Khedira has looked a lot like the Sami Khedira of old. Perhaps it’s the extra kick of motivation of facing a team that gave up on him after he gave them so much, but Khedira found a whole new gear in this tie, and especially playing back at the Bernabeu. He was a force in midfield again, and for those who remember just how good he was at his height, it was a joy to see him playing so well again.
A Ramos-less Madrid back line is not a pretty thing
One thing that’s been incredibly underrated about Sergio Ramos over the last five years or so is just how good he can be at organizing the back line. So with Ramos watching from an executive suite thanks to suspension, it shouldn’t have been all that big a shock when Real Madrid’s defenders were constantly caught out of position or making poor decisions when Juventus came up to apply pressure, especially Marcelo and Dani Carvajal, who were too often caught way upfield. Pair that lack of organization with Juventus bringing a multi-angled attack that had Madrid’s midfield spinning in circles, and it’s little wonder that it was such a long day at the office for Raphael Varane and company.
Gareth Bale may be done as a top-level player
Riddled by injuries, plagued by inconsistent playing time and spiraling confidence, Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid career has been anything but successful. And if his woeful 45 minutes on the pitch in the first half are any indication, he might just not be capable of playing at an elite level any more. He was a step slow, three or four beats out of sync with his teammates, and just didn’t look like he had the skill or drive that once made him so lethal. Maybe a change of scenery this summer will help break him out of this years-long slump, but it’s going to be a long and difficult road for Bale from here on out no matter what.