Heartbreak for Juventus as late penalty sees Real Madrid through
Dramatic scenes at the Bernabeu as Cristiano Ronaldo struck late after Juve comeback
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a last minute penalty against Juventus in their Champions League quarter-final. Photo: Paul Hanna/Reuters
Real Madrid are in the semi-final of the Champions League for the eighth year in a row. That is no surprise; what is a surprise is that for so much of a dramatic, nervous night at the Santiago Bernabéu, it looked like they would not be. A Champions League of shocks almost had the biggest of them all, the champions following Barcelona in being knocked out by Italian opposition, despite a 3-0 first leg victory. In Turin, they had been applauded, Ronaldo holding his heart in gratitude after his superb goal was handed an ovation; at the Bernabéu, there were hands on hearts too, a collective coronary, right to the very end.
Here, Juventus attacked relentlessly, taking Real to the cliff-edge with a 3-0 lead, until, with less than a minute remaining, Vázquez went down in the area. The referee, Michael Oliver, pointed to the spot. As Juventus’s players surrounded him, Gigi Buffon was sent off, his last European game ending with him walking from the field. A place in the semi-final came down to this: the world watching, Ronaldo and Wojciech Szczesny waiting. One shot. It flew high into the net, Ronaldo racing to the corner, throwing his shirt into the air, this stadium erupted, barely able to believe it. Juventus couldn’t either.
Fear had visited the hosts early, a realisation taking this arena: there was a game on here. Douglas Costa played in Sami Khedira, running into the area on the right, and he clipped the cross to the far post where Mario Mandzukic arrived and headed in the opener. The clock said 1.16 – it was the quickest goal Madrid had conceded in this competition, and it was just the start.
Less than 30 seconds later, Juventus were back again: the celebration high in the north end had barely subsided and the rallying call from the rest of the ground had hardly been raised when Gonzalo Higuaín was there, deep inside the area. Higuaín was slow, the shot scuffed and the chance wasted, but the storm had not passed yet. De Sciglio delivered two crosses in a minute, finding space on the right, where Madrid were exposed.
Costa in particular concerned them, running up that line or across the pitch, opening space, too fast for his pursuers. It was he who raced into the area again a moment later, seizing on the mess made by Vallejo and Varane. Keylor Navas dived to stop the low cut-back, leaving the ball at the feet of Higuaín. He launched forward outstretched but Navas recovered to block the shot from close range. And all this inside seven minutes.
Soon after, Gareth Bale forced a save from Gigi Buffon and backheeled the rebound wide. If there was relief for Juve, there was relief for Madrid too in seeing a response from their team, and the roar from the stands underlined how badly they needed it. The nerves, though, would not go away, even when Dani Carvajal came bursting through or when Ronaldo’s shot came off Buffon and Isco scored from close range only to see the flag raised. Carvajal had to clear Mandzukic’s delivery across the face of goal and the resulting corner went all the way through to the Croatian, bouncing off his shins and into Navas’s hands from five yards.
This was relentless; it was also only fifteen minutes in, and yet there could have been three or four already. The tie could have been levelled, too. And still the chances came, albeit the balance tilted. Higuaín shot over, Kroos was blocked and Isco curled wide. Madrid had wrested some control, a little breathing room. Or so it seemed. A minute after Buffon was out to save from Isco, Juventus got the second. De Sciglio had been forced off after quarter of an hour but the supply from the right was not cut. Stephan Lichtsteiner this time curled to the far post, where Mandzukic headed home.
Madrid’s hearts were in their mouths now, Madrid’s nerves frayed, and Varane’s header thumped back off the bar on the stroke of half-time. As the players departed, Lucas Vázquez and Asensio came out to warm up. Zidane had to change something.
The men who departed were Bale and Casemiro, Madrid shifting to 4-4-2. The question was how they would approach this. How Juventus would, too. The answer, it appeared, was on the front foot, and led by Costa, immediately cutting inside and curling over. Juventus were just one goal from extra-time here and on the hour they got it, when Navas dropped a long, deep and largely inoffensive cross at the feet of Blaise Matuidi, who scrambled it over the line.
The tie really had tilted their way: level on aggregate and away goals too, the psychological, tactical advantage was theirs. That situation also created doubts, though: they had something to lose now and a decision to make: look for the goal now or later? Madrid, in part shared. 20 minutes now, or 30 minutes later?
With each passing minute, that question became more pertinent, the balance tilting towards extra-time, the margins finer, the tension and the risks greater. If, that is, they could even choose. Ronaldo’s deflected shot squeezed wide and then Vallejo blocked Khedira inside the area, Buffon scrambled to save from Isco and Ronaldo shot just wide. Carvajal then delivered a deep cross in the 85th minute. Ronaldo rose, but so did his header. This was not over yet. And when Ronaldo went over in the last minute, the whole thing, 180 extraordinary minutes, were reduced to one moment. Time passed, tension grew, but on a night of nerves Ronaldo showed none. – Guardian service