MADRID — A buoyant Real Madrid took a huge step towards the UEFA Champions League’s final four with a 3-0 quarterfinal first leg win over a defiant but limited Borussia Dortmund at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Early goals from Gareth Bale and Isco set Madrid well on their way before even half an hour had been played. After the break Cristiano Ronaldo netted another record breaking goal to ensure the tie was realistically all but decided even before next Tuesday’s return game at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, with the night’s only downer for Blancos fans Ronaldo limping from the pitch late on with a knee problem.
Even Dortmund’s biggest supporters knew a hiding was possible pre-game, as it took to the pitch with just four of the starters who edged out Madrid in last season’s semifinals. But the hosts also had its injury issues — with Angel di Maria dropping out with stomach trouble and Isco coming in.
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That late switch concerned the Bernabeu patrons taking their seats, with many still brooding over recent La Liga defeats to Barcelona and Sevilla. The mood quickly lifted however when Bale opened the scoring with just three minutes played. Right-back Dani Carvajal burst forward and squared, and the Welsh winger to controlled neatly before poking the ball home for his fifth goal in just eight European games for Madrid.
Dortmund tried to find a toe-hold in the game, and ex-Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin tried a long ranger but it was straight at his former teammate Iker Casillas. Just as the hopes of the noisy 5,000 visiting fans were raised, Isco — part of the Malaga side eliminated controversially by Dortmund last season — got his personal revenge with the second goal. The ball fell nicely to the impish midfielder on the edge of the box, and he cleverly took a touch before passing the ball deftly just inside the near corner of the net.
Madrid were hungry for more. Bale saw a free-kick tipped over by Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller, and Karim Benzema sent a header just wide. But as the Bundesliga side’s coach Jurgen Klopp said himself pre-game he is no magician. Dangermen Henrik Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus saw little of the ball, and when they did they were quickly swarmed out of it by hard working white jerseys.
The visitors tried to lift it after the break, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang striding purposefully into the area but sliding his shot across goal and wide. Madrid’s defense — with Carvajal showing he can defend as well as attack by nicking the ball from Mkhitaryan toe as the Armenian was about to shoot — was rarely under any real pressure.
The only thing now not going to plan for Madrid was that Ronaldo, on his 100th Champions League appearance, had not yet marked the occasion by getting on the scoresheet. That concern was over just before the hour mark, when superb anticipation and vision from the again outstanding Luka Modric set up a relatively simple chance for the Portuguese to convert for his 64th career competition goal. It was also his 14th in this season’s competition, equalling the all-time record. The Bernabeu, frustrated at slipping down La Liga, had whistled the Portuguese last weekend. But "Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo" was now ringing around the huge ground.
Klopp decided to go for broke by removing defender Lukasz Piszczek and throwing on another forward in Julian Schieber. Madrid quite liked the idea of a helter-skelter ending and Benzema almost made it four. Casillas — who is benched in La Liga — also enjoyed the chance to show off, with a flying save from Reus’ shot bringing roars of appreciation from the crowd, and denying Dortmund even the solace of an away goal.
There was time for one last scare for Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, with Ronaldo limping from the pitch late on with a knee problem. The Portuguese has been troubled by tendonitis in recent weeks, and probably should get a well deserved rest in next week’s return in Germany. Isco could then keep his place, even if di Maria is fit again, and build on what was a sparkling playmaking display on Wednesday night.
Dortmund will have last year’s hero Robert Lewandowski back for that game, but will be missing another starter with veteran midfielder Sebastian Kehl now suspended. Klopp’s achievement in dragging a patched-together side this far should not be underestimated, but it will go no further.
”You have to do the right tactical things against the best teams in the world. We can do better than we did tonight,” said Klopp, who rued the late misses. ”(Losing) 3-0 you are not cool, you are not confident, you are under pressure and you are not confident in the box. We had chances.”
Madrid can already start planning for what will be a fourth consecutive semifinal appearance. It lost all three under previous coach Jose Mourinho, with the "Special One" unable to deliver the long awaited Decima tenth trophy.
”We did what we prepared for well,” Ancelotti said. ”We used a lot of energy in the first half and were tired. So we dropped the team back a little in the second half — while looking to score on the counter.”
That dream is alive again now as Madrid has its mojo back.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.