After over a decade of barren campaigns, the Champions League, Europe’s most coveted prize, is becoming a reality for Real Madrid. But standing in their way is ‘La Beista Negra’ Bayern Munich, led by perennial Madrid adversary Pep Guardiola.
Armed on the wings are Los Blancos’ two most dynamic weapons in Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the two most expensive footballers in the history of the sport. As expensive as they are explosive, they will be counted upon by the capital club to guide the team to their first Champions League final since 2002.
It’s these games where owner Florentino Perez’s highly vaunted Galactico policy is supposed to come to fruition. While beating upon La Liga’s minnows with their impressive firepower may bring the highlights and the gaudy statistics, it’s these games where the likes of Ronaldo and Bale are supposed to shine brightest. Frankly it doesn’t get much bigger than a semi-final second leg in Munich, and it will be up to Madrid’s biggest stars to rise to the occasion and carry their team through.
But it won’t be easy. Guardiola’s men are an extremely organized and talented bunch. They are tactically disciplined and with a raucous home crowed expected at the Allianz Arena Madrid are surely in for a tough time.
Both Ronaldo and Bale have had their excellent moments this season despite struggling through injuries. Last week at the Bernabeu, Madrid put in a dogged defensive display hitting Bayern on the counter when the opportunity arose. The win itself was even more impressive when we take into account that both forwards were severely short of match fitness. Ronaldo having just returned from a left leg injury looked a tad rusty, as evidenced by his spurning of a glorious opportunity after being put through clear on goal by Karim Benzema.
Bale meanwhile, who would come on for the Portugal international after 74 minutes wasn’t much bette and seemed woefully short of match fitness as he struggled to cope with the effects of the flu. But as the second leg approaches both players are at close to 100 per cent so there can be no excuses this time.
It may not seem like it but the writing is also on the wall for Ronaldo. Already one of the greatest players to ever play the game, there is not much more for the Ballon d’Or to prove individually, but the elephant in the room still remains. For all of his record breaking exploits Ronaldo’s spell in Madrid has not been particularly fruitful. With only one La Liga crown and two Copa Del Rey titles since his massive move from Manchester United in the summer of 2009, he will be eager to put the demons of the past behind him.
The disappointment of his penalty miss against Bayern two seasons ago has remained etched in his memory, he famously claimed in the aftermath of that game to the Madrid fans “I owe you a final and I won’t fail you.”
The biggest players are supposed to perform on the biggest stages and while no one is accusing Ronaldo of falling short, suffice to say a memorable performance tonight will go a long way to cementing his status as an absolute legend. These are the nights we live for.