Chicharito leads Real Madrid to late Champions League win vs. Atletico
A late goal from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez put Real Madrid into the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League at the expense of their arch-rivals Atletico, 1-0, in a pulsating Madrid derby on Wednesday night. Chicharito’s strike came with just two minutes remaining in regulation, with extra-time looming. Collecting a square ball from Cristiano Ronaldo, Chicharito broke a long drought with a shot down the gut to finally beat Atletico keeper Jan Oblak.
"He played really well with a lot of intensity," Real manager Carlo Ancelotti said. "He deserved it because he didn’t play a lot his season but when I told him to play he was ready. He trained really well and he was very professional and I’m happy for him."
Atletico will rue the loss, their first in eight games against Real across all play – and their first loss in ten matches against all comers — but their pain was largely self-inflicted. Arda Turan was ejected with 13 minutes to play reducing Atleti to ten men and forcing manager Diego Simeone to retreat into a shell and play for penalties.
In the end, Real were able to overcome their rivals in some of the most challenging of circumstances. Real had been hit by a wave of injuries with Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema all sidelined for the game. That lead to a surprising lineup, with Sergio Ramos pushed into midfield, Chicharito running up top — and Sami Khedria rooted to the bench in a sign of how far his stock has plummeted.
The first half was a tense affair with chances at a premium. Atletico held their shape with the solidity of rebar while a depleted Real never really were able to get the play flowing through their makeshift midfield. Instead, chances came in flashes, and aside from one great look as time expired, rarely tested the keepers.
Chicharito got things going first in the 12th minute, showing the planned interplay between him and James Rodriguez with a nice run to the endline. Unfortunately, his decision to shoot was poor (and he knew it) and the ball ended up harmlessly in the side netting. Cristiano Ronaldo would then be released by James Rodriguez past Diego Godin, but dragged his strike wide right of the frame.
After that, Atleti grew in confidence. James coughed up the ball near Real’s net, allowing defender Jesus Gamez a free hit on goal that Iker Casillas held well. Antoine Griezmann began to show some linkup with Mario Mandzukic, but Dani Carvajal was alert on the most piercing move, clearing the danger well.
Arda Turan would collect a first half card that allowed Ronaldo a dangerous free-kick that Oblak was forced to put out for a corner, but the most dangerous attack came at the end of the half when Mandzukic opened his body up and allowed the ball to be nicked off him by James. That sent Ronaldo racing at Oblak’s net, and his sidefoot was stopped on the sprawl with a save reminiscent of one made on Bale in the first leg.
Real turned up the heat in the second half, with Chicharito firing wide just minutes after the restart and Los Blancos winning a series of set pieces that somehow they were unable to make count. Oblak had another brilliant night, stumbling just once over these two legs, and was blameless on the goal.
For Atleti, the chances were even scarcer, with Mandzukic rarely getting into the game, and the visitors largely reduced to firing from range. Gabi had a volley well blocked away, and the best chance, a header from Koke, was nodded right into Casillas’ waiting gloves. You started to get the sense that this was a game Atletico were looking to grind out, willing to wait for spot kicks rather than risk opening up their backline against James, Ronaldo and even a misfiring Chicharito.
The match turned in the 77th when Turan, already on a booking, went in rashly on Ramos with a high cleat. Ramos made a meal of the contact, but it was stupid, was a foul and referee Felic Brych was right to reach for the red card.
"There’s no sense in talking about Arda’s red card, it will change nothing," Simeone said after the match. "But until then we were controlling the game."
Following the card, Real piled the pressure on, with Oblak forced into a superb last-second denial of Chicharito after the Mexican star had been slipped through by James. Stumbling under attention from Juanfran, Chicharito nearly hit the far corner, but Oblak got out smartly to ping it away.
Then came the hammer blow. Running a one-two with Rodriguez, Ronaldo tipped the ball over to a wide-open Chicharito, and this chance he could not fail but miss. It was somewhat undesevered on the run of Chicharito’s play — in truth, he was poor — but it was just for Real overall. Atletico were rarely able to craft real chances, and looked awful lot like a team trying to run down the clock.
FOXSoccer.com’s wire services contributed to this report