Real Madrid, Schalke easily advance
Real Madrid and Schalke booked their passages tonight to the semifinals of the Champions League with workmanlike performances that reflected the dominance both sides had shown in the first leg.
Madrid entered with a four-goal cushion, and a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo just after the half finished Spurs' slim hopes 1-0 (5-0 on aggregate) to set up a blockbuster meeting with arch-rivals Barcelona.
Schalke manhandled a negative Inter Milan again, this time 2-1 in Gelsenkirchen, to win 7-3 on aggregate and progress to face Premiership leaders Manchester United.
Both semifinals will take place in two weeks time, kicking off April 26 and 27. All Champions League matches are available live and in HD across the FOX family of networks.
Tottenham were a far better side tonight than a week prior at the Bernabeu but the result was still the same: Another loss, despite their best efforts. Playing with a lot of pluck and fire, Spurs entertained but always seemed to carry a whiff of desperation. Looking for penalty calls where none were to be given and watching Roman Pavlyuchenko waste their best chance by skying the ball into the cheap seats, it's easy to understand why.
Real Madrid, so often tepid on the road, were indeed not at their magisterial best. But on a night when Spurs were wasteful in front of the net, they were resolute enough. Heurelho Gomes gifted Madrid their winner, inexplicably batting a straightforward attempt from 25 yards out from Cristiano Ronaldo into the lower corner of his own net. The goal, given to Ronaldo, was his 40th of the year; to Spurs' fans, the howler by Gomes must feel like his millionth.
At least Gareth Bale had a better outing, perhaps signaling that he has finally shaken off the injuries and funk that has plagued his game of late. He tortured Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol for a good twenty minutes, but his partners were rarely able to make anything of it.
Part of the problem was that Tottenham's players went down softly under any sort of pressure. Bale himself set the tone when he flopped under a challenge from Xabi Alonso that ref Nicola Rizzoli correctly judged to be a dive. Then, Luka Modric was off to the turf, again at the feet of Xabi, stumbling after Bale forced keeper Iker Casillas into a rare save. The most controversial shout came about a half-hour in, when Albiol clearly clipped Pavlyuchenko and Rizzoli was remiss in not pointing to the spot.
For Spurs, this was a disappointing if not unexpected ending to what had been a thrilling and rare European adventure. Neutrals who have thrilled to their attacking and enjoyed their devil-may-care play might be secretly hoping they can make a return appearance next season. For now, Real Madrid march on. It's impossible to argue that they didn't deserve to.
Maybe it's time to acknowledge that this Schalke 04 run to the semifinals is no longer a surprise.
Inter's only real chance to overcome its miserable performance at home in the first leg evaporated quickly in Gelsenkirchen. The defending champions lacked the pace, ideas and power to create the early goal that might have sowed the odd seed of doubt in the home team and once Schalke had seen off the first 20 minutes, the idea of a massive Inter comeback had been proven mere fantasy.
What isn't fantasy is the fact that on a field where the "stars" all played for the visitors, Benedikt Howedes, Christoph Metzelder, Alexander Baumjohann, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Jose Manuel Jurado are the names of the players who were far the more effective over both legs of this tie. This truth will sting proud Inter, who now face some real questions.
Baumjohann debuted at the San Siro a week ago in Schalke's 5-2 rout; tonight he patrolled the right side of the defense-first Schalke midfield, disrupting whatever Inter thought might work and showing himself capable of just enough possession to unsettle his markers.
Howedes and Metzelder ably dealt with anything down the middle, Jurado was his usual competent self in midfield, eschewing any idea of trying to emulate the suspended Jefferson Farfan's weaving runs. Instead he stayed central, did as much defending as play-making and was the creator of the goal which effectively killed off the tie.
Jurado, as he has been so often in this run, made the decisive move of the night and effectively killed the tie. That came just before the break when Schalke suddenly swept forward, catching Inter short at the back. Jurado ran at the central defense, released a perfect ball that sprung Raul and the veteran Spaniard went around Julio Cesar before scoring.
Inter did manage an early second half goal, but it was almost an after-thought. Although Thiago Motta side-footed home a Lucio header to Sneijder's 49th minute corner it did nothing to ignite an Inter charge nor did it unsettle Schalke in the slightest. Indeed, it actually seemed to inspire the Germans to come out of their defensive shell and opened the match.
When Howedes scored a marvelous goal, running straight down the middle onto a perfect Raul chip that left him alone to smash past Julio Cesar in the 81st minute it made the score on the night correct and confirmed the unexpectedly one-way nature of a pairing that was expected to favor Inter, but instead turned into an Italian nightmare.
Inter lost its title in the first leg when they failed to put the lid on a vibrant Schalke side that refused to play by the rules: attacking rather than defending on the road. Leonardo's team also failed so completely because men like Samuel Eto'o, Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder got lost in the shuffle, their unquestion skills stifled by the Schalke defense.
It was not so much a case of Inter being outworked, however, as being thoroughly outplayed. Their no-name opponents were never awestruck at any time during these two legs - and that may be the thing which will worry Sir Alex Ferguson the most. Not only might his Manchester United players have to learn some of the names of their semifinal foes, they will have to understand that reputations don't mean much in Gelsenkirchen these days.
One final question: What are the odds on one of Real Madrid's most famous players to score at Wembley in May? We are speaking of Raul, of course.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.