Real Madrid 2 Club Brugge 2
There are many ways to get knocked out of Europe and if that fate does befall Real Madrid, they may just have chosen the daftest of all. They need a response to avoid going out in the group stages for the first time ever after following up a 3-0 defeat in Paris with a 2-2 draw against Club Brugge.
And yet, while this result leaves them with a solitary point, and while it was the Belgians who stood applauding their fans at the end, singing away high in the north stand, it could have been far worse.
For Madrid too, the draw was a success, given where they had come from. What they might have expected to be a routine victory became a rescue mission.
For a long time, Madrid had been on course for a second defeat in the Champions League that arrived in a way that will have hurt even more than the first: to begin with, this was silly at the Santiago Bernabeu, then it got worse. Then the comeback came, Madrid going from 2-0 down to level it at 2-2, but it completed only one of the two objectives: to avoid defeat. And they were almost caught right at the death.
Brugge had been ahead from the ninth minute, although it took a further three for them to know that. Percy Tau was played in up the left and, with Madrid wide open, he put the ball across for Emmanuel Bonaventure who was racing through the middle.
What happened next was, well, daft. Alone in front of goal, Bonaventure failed to control the ball properly, stumbling and watching it bounce off one leg and then the other, the chance apparently wasted. Only, it wasn’t: the ball dribbled past Thibaut Courtois, already on the floor in front of him. So slowly did it go that Madrid’s might even have got up in time to stop it crossing the line.
Courtois, though, couldn’t stop it. The linesman and his referee on the other hand could. Offside was given – and accepted by just about everyone here. Tau had appeared to go early, and so too had Bonaventure. It hadn’t been necessary either.
Over on the touchline, the Brugge manager Philippe Clement literally did a facepalm inspired by how foolishly they had passed up a perfect opportunity. But these are days of video, of routine checks for every goal. And, to the surprise of this stadium, the word came back: onside. Sergio Ramos had been the culprit. Brugge led, the celebration no less effusive for the delay.
Madrid were stunned, groggy, and almost caught again. Bonaventure was away once more, the linesman’s flag stopping his run. This decision may have been wrong too, but he put the brakes on and so it was too late.
Madrid were fining it hard to escape their own stupefaction. Simon Deli pushed Lucas Vazquez over: the Galician was having an especially horrible time of it. So was Nacho, taken on and beaten often by Krepin Diatta. Madrid had the ball, but every time Brugge came out, they looked vulnerable. In fact, had the Belgians taken better decisions and had cooler heads, they might have done more damage.
They did enough. Luka Modric went down in the area, Toni Kroos saw a volley deflected just wide, and Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema got in each other's way. Benzema's header was blocked and then Simon Mignolet made a sensational save from Raphael Varane's header. But at the other end, the threat always lingered. Courtois had to save from Pau, slipped clean through in behind Nacho by Diatta's measured pass. Kroos then put a shot fractionally wide, having been played in by Benzema.
That was the best chance, but it was quickly followed by the second for Brugge and in this too Madrid were complicit in their own demise. Modric lost the ball and Bonaventure rushed into space, no one in his way as he headed towards goal, his feet seemingly faster than his mind. As he approached the area, Bonaventure stumbled, seemingly set to fall, but he stayed upright just long enough to dink the ball over Courtois, who was already on his way down.
Madrid were in pieces; the half-time whistle was met with furious whistles. Zinedine Zidane acted fast: off went Nacho, replaced by Marcelo. Off too went Courtois, a substitution that some suspected was a statement, cheered by supporters, but that was in fact explained by the goalkeeper's physical state. During the break, Courtois had been dizzy and vomiting. Alphonse Areola was almost immediately called upon to prevent Bonaventure, clean through and running from deep, from making it three.
Relieved, Madrid reacted. Mignolet had made a couple of saves already when, on 55 minutes, Ramos headed in Benzema's cross. The flag was up and Madrid's captain looked offside, but the VAR again decided otherwise. Game on, noise up. Brugge had half an hour to hang on now. Ruud Vormer flew in to block a shot from Casemiro, Vazquez bent just wide, and Hazard hit past the post from the edge of the box. Vinicius was introduced, the final change. Bonaventure was withdrawn; high in the Bernabeu, Brugge fans applauded; the Madrid fans felt like doing the same, relieved to see him go.
The impetus went too, that 10-minute fury fizzing out. Vinicius ran but few real chances followed. What did was a challenge from Vormer, diving in, who caught the Brazilian on the ankle. Georgi Kabakov sent Vormer off and from the free kick, Casemiro headed Madrid level. They had six minutes to get another.
When Ramos jumped with Mignolet and the ball ran free, there was a sharp intake of breath, and somehow it felt inevitable that Madrid would score. But they didn’t and in fact, perhaps fittingly, it was Brugge who came closest in those dying minutes.
Tau was dashing through but didn’t see the option to pass opening up on the left and was eventually bundled over. From the free-kick, deep into stoppage time now, Siebe Schrijvers was suddenly alone deep inside the Madrid area. Only just onside, he sliced his shot wide. – Guardian