There’s nothing more reliable than the madness that’s been unleashed at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu this season.
No miracle is too great to be within the realm of possibility for a team called Real Madrid. On Wednesday evening, the newly crowned Spanish champion was on the ground. After beating Manchester City 4-3 in the first leg, the Bernabéu scoreboard showed Manchester City 0-1 in the 90th minute. Then what happened? A miracle, as seen a few times this season.
Substitute striker Rodrygo equalized in the 90th minute, then forced extra time with a header less than 60 seconds later to make it 2-1. And in extra time, Karim Benzema scored a penalty in the 95th minute to make it 3-1 – after referee Daniele Orsato decreed a penalty kick that was at least controversial. Because whether City defender Rubén Dias really met the striker Benzema? You could see it differently. It didn’t matter to the Madrilenians. They call that: magic. And they are looking forward to meeting Liverpool in the final on May 28 – like in Paris in 1981 and in Kyiv in 2018.
It was a game that, in its closing stages, fully lived up to the expectations of a stadium thirsting for frenzy. Or: after a game that resembles a descent from a slope with a 45 percent incline.
Initially, the game smelled more like beer than sparkling wine
Long before the game, the toughest of the fans gathered in Concha Espina, one of the service streets of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, which is currently under construction, and lit censers and bengalos. But what they were then initially offered was a game that seemed to be intended more for the expensively dressed guests of honor. For example: the tennis pros Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who are currently playing the Open in Madrid, or the racing driver Carlos Sainz. It was a party that smelled less like beer than sparkling wine.
That was also due to City, the side that won 4-3 in last week’s first leg. They didn’t just play with the ball and from the start they tried to keep it in their ranks for as long as possible. They stretched every game stoppage as long as it was humanly possible. And only once let themselves be carried away to leave decency. With less than ten minutes to play, a foul by Casemiro on Kevin De Bruyne – the Brazilian jumped into the Belgian’s legs from behind – led to a so-called pack formation. Aymerick Laporte knocked over Luca Modric, which the Italian referee Orsato punished with yellow for both opponents. Surprisingly, Casemiro got away with it. Orsato tends to issue warning cards only in the event of gun violence.
At this point, the game was reminiscent of Ravel’s Bolero. There was a crackling sound, and it seemed likely that there would be a crescendo. Or would have to come. The first chances to score belonged to the Madrilenians. Karim Benzema missed twice from a promising position (5th/12th), then winger Vinícius slipped the ball over the instep in the penalty area. Only then did the city, which appeared a bit too controlled, respond. Madrid goalkeeper Courtois saved against Bernardo Silva (20th) just as brilliantly as 20 minutes later from a long-range Phil Foden shot. In between, Toni Kroos, by the way, was remarkably good and caught his attention with a dangerous free kick (27th). The ball just missed the City goal.
Substitute Rodrygo becomes player of the evening
The start of the second half belonged to Madrid’s Vinícius and he confirmed all the prejudices that always cast a shadow over him. Especially in the 46th minute, when Madrid right-back Carvajal broke through and served him the ball: Vinícius missed the empty goal. Later he got confused. And that was Madrid – initially – the undoing.
Because: Guardiola made a change in the 70th minute, which gave his team’s game greater consistency. DFB international Ilkay Gündogan came on for Kevin De Bruyne, who was below his potential. It took less than three minutes for Gündogan to find the same frequency as Bernardo Silva, who had been brilliant until then. Gündogan deactivated the Madrilenians’ pressing with a wonderful pass – and found Silva so alone that the Portuguese could run five or ten meters before he put the ball out to Mahrez.
The Algerian overcame Courtois with a dream shot from a tight angle. But then came the crazy final phase. Substitute 100m Jack Grealish missed the decision twice and City lost control. Real wingman Rodrygo, who was also substituted on, scored in the 90th to equalize – and in the first minute of added time to make it 2-1. Madness, as I said, which was topped by Madrid’s penalty in the fifth minute of extra time.
The rest of the game was mainly: defensive battle. Guardiola’s City side were running against the clock and the result, bristling with hope, and Real Madrid boss Ancelotti had the audacity to replace Benzema. There was hardly anything to be seen of the fine automatisms at City now, and even Professor Pep could not prevent the wild coincidence now storming along. It wasn’t enough. Manchester City had only almost done it again in the end and Real had done it again.