Real Madrid reach Champions League final after City tightrope act

Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester City

(Real Madrid win 6-5 on aggregate).


On a temperate Wednesday night at the beginning of May, something happened. It was something that had been seen before. It was a once in a football fan-ship event, a comeback for the ages, yet the crazy thing is, Real Madrid were making a habit of it. On Wednesday night in Madrid, football once again showed why it’s the most popular sport in the world.

Los Blancos began the night on the front foot in the early stages, but for footballing reasons, were forced back in the first half. As they did in the first leg, Manchester City put their foot on the ball and started to play. They took the ball from Madrid and didn’t create nearly as many chances as in the first match, but neither did they allow Karim Benzema even a sniff. With Vinicius Junior now up against Kyle Walker, even he needed a headstart if he was to get behind him.

Casemiro stayed on the pitch by miracle, again something of routine for Real Madrid, and his team stayed level by virtue of two good Thibaut Courtois saves. City weren’t dominant, but they were in control.

The hosts threatened to change that from the kick-off of the second half, Vinicius was unable to wrap the wrong foot around a chance at the back post. They came again with renewed vigour but Manchester City seemed to have weathered the storm after an hour of play.

Just over ten minutes later, the holes in Real Madrid’s press were a little larger, with Toni Kroos off the pitch for Rodrygo. City played out from their own half in a series of technically excellent passes and correct decisions with the ball. Bernardo Silva ended up on the edge of the box, in space. He laid the ball to his right – behind Gabriel Jesus – only for Riyad Mahrez to smash the ball into the near top corner. Manchester City were two goals to the good with 15 minutes remaining.

Then a curious thing happened. For some strange reason, people doubted Real Madrid. Manchester City came again through Jack Grealish and Ferland Mendy was forced into a heroic goal-line clearance, before Grealish nearly dissected Real Madrid’s already wafer thin chances of making the final.

The rebellious Santiago Bernabeu wondered if it had been tamed for once. Some left, others continued the impressive din. As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute, Real Madrid were still without a shot on target.

Naturally, they only needed one. Although City didn’t give Benzema much of a look at goal, they did give him just enough space to cushion the ball back across the six-yard box for Rodrygo to nip in. The Brazilian was faster than the defenders and tapped home from close range.

The danger was almost innocuous, there was little threat. Yet Real Madrid scored. Before anyone had time to register what had happened, there they were again. Dani Carvajal crossed from the right, Marco Asensio skimmed the ball with his thick head of hair and Rodrygo rose. A wide forward by trade, quick and technical, playing for Real Madrid on a European night means you can call upon Cristiano Ronaldo even when he isn’t there.

The Bernabeu exploded and the rest of the world looked silly. Mouths open, predictions wrong and logic contradicted.

Once extra time had arrived, the only doubts left around Real Madrid was how they would win it. Ruben Dias was a few inches slower than Benzema in the box, bringing the Frenchman down. He stuck it in the side-netting with the nonchalance of the very greatest French artists.

The final stages, included another sensational save from Courtois, who is also making the miraculous mundane. City pushed, there were some chances, but now everyone knew. Just as Chelsea knew before them, just as Paris Saint-Germain realised before them.

The celebrations were those of a trophy. No club has the capacity to conjure up the epic emotions of a final to accompany other matches on such a regular basis.

For the visitors, they were left numb. Disorientated. Sucker-punch is an overused term but in this case it does the groggy confusion of City and Pep Guardiola justice.

Once again Real Madrid subverted reason. Their opponents ‘should have won’. Yet this team has a capacity to disregard the obstacles that hold other teams back. Where others need chances, to dominate and to play well to win most of their matches, Real Madrid have figured out how to do so in just a moment.

Taking that into account, if 90 minutes are at the Bernabeu are very long, then one can only imagine that 120 of them must be an eternity.

Tags Champions League Manchester City Real Madrid
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