Real Madrid KO’s Bayern Munich, advances to Champions League final
Cristiano Ronaldo made UEFA Champions League history Tuesday, becoming the highest-scorer ever in a European campaign as Real Madrid routed Bayern Munich in Bavaria 4-0 Tuesday night. The result put Real through to the finals in Lisbon 5-0 on aggregate and dealt a massive blow to Bayern’s pride: this was just their first loss to Madrid at home in 11 games, and it came at the worst possible time.
Real’s fabled "La Decima" is now in sight for Real, and they await Tuesday’s result to find out their opponent as Atletico take on Chelsea in London. Were Atletico to win, it would set up the sixth same-country Champions League final — but the first featuring two teams from the same city.
From the start, Bayern looked nervous and out of sorts, wilting in the glare of their own arena. Before the match, both managers had stressed the mental aspect of the contest and both were correct — it was Carlo Ancelotti’s team that were by far the more composed.
Real signaled their intent after just nine minutes when keeper Manuel Neuer took an unwise constitutional, allowing Gareth Bale a free volley from 35 yards on his net. That attempt sliced wide, but the fans around the ground drew in their breath, sensing it was a harbinger. They were correct.
Eight minutes later to the second, Sergio Ramos outleapt everyone at the far edge of the penalty area to meet Luka Modric’s corner, and pound home the header that break the match open. Neuer was not to blame; Dante and David Alaba were the ones who had gone missing this time around, and while Ramos’ hops were majestic, the fact was, he had no one within two yards of him.
Three minutes later, Ramos would ice the game. Toni Kroos unwisely fouled Bale and Angel di Maria stepped up, and his free-kick pinged in to Ramos — again left unguarded by Dante. This was a far more egregious error as Ramos was able to run into space without a Bayern player anywhere in sight. All the back could do was kick the ground in frustration while Ramos was buried by his teammates in the corner.
Then, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Ronaldo, who has been Real’s dynamo over these years, made history in the 34th minute with a clinical counterattack. Modric began it with an outlet up to Karim Benzema, who lobbed the ball out to Bale. Bale laid it on a plate for Ronaldo, and he made no mistake. The goal put Ronaldo’s single-campaign tally at 15, setting a new European record; moreover, it was his 50th goal in fifty Champions League games for Real and he celebrated wildly, flashing the number "50" to the crowd with his hands. Unsavory? Perhaps, but only the flint-hearted would begrudge him the moment.
Ronaldo would then stretch his total to 16 late in the game, burying a free kick in the 89th minute to add insult to injury. Kroos again conceded the foul, and again Real made the Germans pay. The humiliation was now complete.
Where was Josep Guardiola during all this? He wore the pained expression of a man who has seen his entire system torn to shreds, brought home by the home announcer who drily quipped that while Bayern were playing "tiki-taka," Real had already played tic-tac-toe. He sipped water, he prowled his area, and he finally sat slumped in his seat. The half wasn’t even over.
Things did not change in the second half. Guardiola belatedly brought on Javi Martinez to bulk up his leaky midfield, but all that did was allow Real Madrid to defend in numbers. Little changed and the game petered out. In fact, the stands had started to clear at the half, with the pessimistic — or coldly realistic — Bayern fans and their media, deciding they had seen enough.
As poor as Bayern were over the two legs, Real were brilliant. Daniel Carvajal stuck to Franck Ribery like a leg-iron, shackling the French star and eliminating his service. Modric, who has been Madrid’s best late-season player, was again immaculate, assisting on two goals and getting back to defend when needed. And then there is Pepe, who can be a goon but not here. The Portuguese international was the rock Real built their first-game lead upon and was the cool head on Tuesday night, making sure that every time Ribery or Arjen Robben ran at his keeper, that there were three men in white shirts in between them and the goal.
There were some blemishes on the game. Xabi Alonso picked up a card for a silly foul that sees him suspended for the final. He remained on the turf long after the card had been taken out, knowing what it meant. And, in the first half, Ribery was seen belting Carvajal across the face. Referee Pedro Proenca didn’t see it, but the French star could take a ban on video evidence.
And of course, for Bayern, there is plenty of egg on their faces. They clearly slipped a gear after winning the Bundesliga title in historic time, and that lack of focus cost them here dearly.
But for Real and Ancelotti, now chasing history? The night was all glory in the chill of the Bavarian spring.
Bring on May, and bring on Lisbon.