Carlo Ancelotti will have been relieved to hear the sound of the final whistle in Dortmund last night. The 2-0 reverse at Westfalenstadion was Real Madrid’s heaviest defeat of the season and their first in the Champions League, but fortunately Ancelotti had the 3-0 cushion of last week’s first-leg win at Santiago Bernabeu to fall back on.
Cristiano Ronaldo sat out the 90 minutes in Germany after receiving a knock in the first-leg, but whether the Portuguese would have made a significant difference to Madrid’s performance last night is debatable.
Perhaps he would have done better from the penalty spot than Angel di Maria, but as it was Ronaldo was reduced to looking on ashen-faced, as if in fear that his 14 Champions League goals would end up counting for nothing.
Madrid started the game the stronger side and conversion of an early penalty, awarded for Lukasz Piszczek’s handball, would have left Dortmund needing five to win the tie. Despite sliding on the greasy surface, Di Maria’s penalty was firmly struck but well saved by Roman Weidenfeller.
That was the turning point, firing up the Germans and their yellow wall of fans and setting up Dortmund’s 35-minute onslaught for the remainder of the first half. Dortmund played a high-energy, high pressing game and there seemed a real danger that Madrid would be overrun.
An acute sense of déjà vu prevailed, recalling Dortmund’s last-minute quarter-final victory over Malaga last year, and their elimination of Los Blancos at the semi-final stage, while Barcelona were simultaneously being hammered by Bayern Munich to confirm Germany’s dominance over Spain, at least at club level.
Despite La Liga losses against Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, last night saw Ancelotti’s men under sustained pressure for long periods for the first time this season, losing their shape and, inevitably, their heads.
Pepe, at fault when he sold Iker Casillas short for Marco Reus’ first goal, formed a disharmonious pair with Sergio Ramos in the centre of defence, while the usually disciplined Xabi Alonso was lucky to stay on the pitch after a series of rash tackles that garnered only a yellow card.
Ancelotti’s substitution of the ineffective Asier Illaramendi for the busy Isco at half-time allowed Madrid to bring Gareth Bale into the game in the second-half, the invisible Welshman having been starved of the ball in the first period.
Though still vulnerable to a powerful Dortmund side after the break, there was a sense that the storm had been weathered. Bale even managed to draw a rare save from Weidenfeller, while Dortmund continued to have good chances to take the tie into extra-time.
Madrid’s aggregate win takes them to a record 25th European Cup semi-final and keeps their dream of La Decima alive. Regardless of who their semi-final opponents are, their last-four tie will provide another stern test.
With Chelsea also through, to be joined by Barcelona or Atletico, and with Bayern the likely fourth protagonist, Madrid’s path to La Decima will be anything but obstacle-free.