Alvaro Morata haunts former club again as Juventus oust Real Madrid
Juventus pulled off a massive upset Wednesday night, ejecting reigning European champions Real Madrid out of the Champions League 3-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu. Former Madrid starlet Alvaro Morata scored the critical goal in the second half to send the Old Lady into this year’s final, where they will meet Madrid’s arch-rivals Barcelona on June 6th (on FOX, 2 p.m. ET).
Morata, unwanted at Real Madrid despite winning the European Cup with him, has now made his club pay twice: in the first leg he got Juventus’ opening goal; on Wednesday he snapped the critical tying goal right through Iker Casillas from close range. Morata has declined to celebrate openly against his old team, with regrets surely now felt on both sides. Real sold him for $30m, only to see him come back and bury a dagger in their backs tonight, and it is hard to feel that the unwanted Morata will have a bittersweet feeling about his role tonight.
"We have fought so hard to get here, but this does not end now," Morata told reporters after the match. "We want to win the final and make history."
Played in witheringly hot conditions, Madrid looked far more settled and comfortable on the day than they had in Turin last week, when a drilled and organized Juve side stunned them 2-1. Ronaldo had snatched a lifeline for Madrid in that game, sinking a late goal off a fabulous lob from James Rodriguez, and today los merengues built on that with a storming performance out of the gate.
And Gareth Bale, so often criticized during his tenure with Madrid, nearly got the match off to a dream start when he connected on a long pass from Marcelo but was only able to head it over the bar. Bale would also have two other key plays in the first half, forcing keeper Gigi Buffon into a sprawling stop off a lash from 30 yards out, and then a great cross-field pass that nearly set Ronaldo up for his second of the night, a shot that was instead blown into the side net.
But the key player for Madrid early would prove to be Karim Benzema: his surging runs took defender Stephan Lichtsteiner completely out of the first half, and directly led to the opening goal. Benzema would torture the defender, at one point putting him on the floor, only to see an uncharacteristically unselfish Ronaldo opt to pass to Isco rather than shoot.
When Ronaldo and James combined in the 23rd minute, Lichtsteiner was the man beat on the play, forcing Giorgio Chiellini to move in clumsily on James, clipping his calf. Ref Jonas Eriksson had no hesitation about pointing to the spot, and Ronaldo cooly blew the ensuing penalty kick right down the middle past Buffon.
Juventus had little to offer in response in the first half, and you would not have been wrong to think they were being played right out of this tie. Arturo Vidal, so influential last match, was unable to get purchase in the middle of the field, and his absence removed Carlos Tevez as a credible threat going forward. Paul Pogba, returning to the lineup after a lengthy absence due to a hamstring injury, was only able to show his talent in flashes, often penned back by the marauding Dani Carvajal, acting as a key wide outlet for the home side.
But Juventus always score in these big games, and that again proved to be the case after the break. Kept waiting by Madrid in the steam after the half, Juventus seemed to take that as an insult. They would go on to seize the unlikeliest of goals right before the stroke of an hour.
Vidal popped the ball back into the mixer after a shabby punch-out from Casillas, and Pogba leapt over his marker to nod the ball into the turf. But Morata was lurking and fired the ball right at the keeper … only to see him watch as the ball flew past him. Morata again declined to celebrate against his old club, but the fans in the upper deck were happy to do it for him as the air went out of the Bernabeu.
"They deserve credit, they did things better," Real’s Sergio Ramos said after the match. "We had our opportunities but didn’t take them."
That goal up a frantic final third that saw Bale’s struggles in a Madrid shirt continue. He would shoot narrowly wide after a great bit of link-up play from James, Marcelo and Ronaldo, only to look up to the stars after his shot came back off the advertising boards. Bale also had a clean header in the 72nd minute after he easily beat Patrice Evra in the air, but he could only land it on the top of the net.
At the other end, Juventus kept pressing, with Vidal slipping Claudio Marchisio through in clean, only to see Casillas make a fantastic diving stop to keep the ball out of the far corner. Pogba almost put the game to bed for good in the 87th, when he found himself with time and space to shoot down the gut, but Casillas came up big again.
Chicharito entered late for Madrid, and he and James almost combined brilliantly in the 86th minute, with the Mexican star just unable to settle the long outlet with only Buffon to beat. But Madrid could not get it done.
There will now be renewed questions for Carlo Ancelotti, who have seen his team effectively concede the La Liga title to Barcelona and crash out of the Spanish Cup and the Champions League.
"Tonight I think we played at our best but we were not lucky. We had chances but we didn’t take them," the Real Madrid coach told the Champions League website after the defeat.
But, for Massimiliano Allegri, it is a huge, huge triumph. Fielding one of the oldest lineups ever seen in this tournament, and with a star in Buffon who has never won the European Cup, this is a magical moment.