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Madrid punishes Galatasaray's intent
Jose Mourinho won the tactical battle – hands down – as Real Madrid eased to a 3-0 win against a game but naive Galatasaray in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim used all his big name attackers – including Mourinho's former players Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder — but the visitors were never in the game.
Mourinho made two surprising changes to the lineup which triumphed at Old Trafford last month against Manchester United, and both the men he brought in — Karim Benzema and Michael Essien — played key roles. Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema and substitute Gonzalo Higuain got the goals to complete Real’s dominance.
"We know they have a good team and fantastic strikers, but we played very well defensively," said Mourinho after the match. "From my point of view we defended better than we attacked. We could have scored more goals, and we let some attacking positions go to waste, but defensively we analyzed the opposition very well."
This was harsh on the 15,000 traveling Yellow-Reds inside the Bernabeu, who had traveled in hope. Terim had talked pregame about his plan to attack Madrid, and stuck to his word, with Drogba and Sneijder both looking in the mood. But there is a narrow line between optimism and foolishness, especially at the Bernabeu, and Galatasaray soon paid for their ambitious intent.
Just nine minutes had passed when a red and yellow attack broke down, and the ball was moved quickly forward to Benzema. He linked with Mesut Ozil, who rolled it through a gaping hole in the visitors defense for Ronaldo to race clear and lift the ball calmly over visiting keeper Fernando Muslera. The goal left Ronaldo atop the Champions League’s golden boot race with nine in nine games.
Thus, the pattern of the game was set, with Real Madrid sitting back and inviting Galatasaray to attack them, then launching punishing counter-attacks. The Turks had the ball but could do little with it. Drogba and ex-Madrid midfielder Hamit Altintop both tried from long range, and both shots went well wide.
Benzema had not been in good form lately, and was booed by fans after his performance with France last week. Yet, Mourinho’s decision to go with Benzema’s intelligent movement paid off. Just before the half-hour mark, Essien crossed from the right, both center backs were distracted by Ronaldo’s jump, and the Frenchman tucked the ball to the net neatly at the far post. It was his 30th goal in 50 games in Europe’s top club competition.
As flares were lit among the away fans behind Muslera’s goal, Gala sparked to life. The much hyped Burak Yilmaz volleyed a chance wide at the near post, then tried to run past Raphael Varane. But Madrid’s ultra-composed teenage defender easily dispossessed him. Talk of the emergence of a new European superstar striker from the east looked off the mark. The truth is that Drogba and Burak looked like they had just met pregame, and Varane and centerback partner Sergio Ramos were in total control.
The Bernabeu relaxed completely when substitute Gonzalo Higuain powerfully headed Xabi Alonso’s perfectly delivered free kick to the net with 15 minutes remaining. Higuain’s fiery celebration indicated he had not been happy to start from the bench — if so Mourinho’s extra motivation had paid off.
Burak’s painful night was complete when he was a little unfortunate to be booked for a dive when tumbling under a Sergio Ramos challenge inside the penalty area late on. Galatasaray’s main source of goals - eight of their eleven in the competition this year - is now suspended for next week’s second leg. Terim’s decision to play his three marquee attackers, and take on Madrid man for man, had played right into his oppositions’ hands. Madrid had rarely got out of third gear, but they rarely had to.
“We saw the difference in quality between the teams,” Terim admitted after Wednesday's drubbing. “My players wanted to do something, but wanting is not the same as doing. I do not want to talk about possible penalties or the referee. But maybe the name of Real Madrid got to him and he lacked the courage to whistle.”
Mourinho began the tie with a perfect record in Champions League quarterfinals, winning with Porto (2004), Chelsea (2005, 2007), Inter Milan (2010) and Madrid (2011, 2012). There’s still 90 minutes to play at Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena next Tuesday, but few would now bet against the “Special One” making it six semifinals in the last ten years.
In Wednesday’s other quarterfinal match, Borussia Dortmund wasted a host of chances — especially in the first half— and as a result kept the door wide open following their goalless draw against La Liga side Malaga. Mario Gotze found himself alone with Malaga keeper Willy Caballero twice in the opening 20 minutes, but his finish let him down both times. Kevin Grosskreutz scored just minutes later, but was correctly ruled offside. Dortmund continued to look the better side in the second half, but their finishing touch was absent.
"I could have helped the team out a great deal by scoring at least once," said Dortmund playmaker Gotze. "It's a shame that I wasn't able to do that. We still have to be satisfied with the result and we still have a return leg."
Malaga really threatened just twice all game, but Caballero’s opposite, Roman Weidenfeller, produced a fine save on Welligton in the first half, then parried away Isco’s booming try in the second. Indeed, it wasn’t one of Isco’s better games for Malaga, but the underdogs should be happy with the draw and head to Signal Iduna Park with plenty of hope: merely a draw in which they score would be enough to see them through to the semifinals.
"I don't think the game in Germany will be too different from tonight, only an early goal for either team could change things," said Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini. "Both sides went for it tonight and it made for a good open game."
FOX Soccer’s Thomas Hautmann contributed to this report.
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