When the dust eventually settles from the rabble that was roused on a ferocious night at the Santiago Bernabeu, aficionados of the Champions league will list this tie as one of the best matches of all time.
Juventus nearly pulled of the unthinkable with a wondrous comeback that left Madrid’s spirits broken, coming back from 3-0 down on aggregate to level the tie which seemed to be going into extra-time. Until, Mehdi Benatia was adjudged to have fouled Lucas Vazquez in the penalty box, leading Michael Oliver to award Real Madrid a last-gasp penalty. A furore erupted and in the ensuing melee, Gianluigi Buffon was shown his first ever red card in a Champions League tie. Wojciech Szczesny couldn’t stop a Cristiano Ronaldo spot-kick as Madrid edged into the semi-finals of the Champions League.
The match will be remembered for an outstanding performance from Mario Mandzukic who was nearly unplayable. Raphael Varane and Jesus Vallejo had a tough time in dealing with the Croatian and they simply couldn’t handle his physicality.
There was also the element of control in Juventus’ performance which Madrid couldn’t break. Midfield was much more fluid for the Bianconeri, especially with the presence of Miralem Pjanic, while Madrid’s was left reeling. Little surprise that Casemiro was replaced at half-time for the more attacking Vazquez and Luka Modric half-way into the second 45.
The absence of Sergio Ramos in Los Blancos’ defence was permeable but Jesus Navas cannot hide behind that excuse to defend himself on what was a torrid display. He was directly responsible for Blaise Matuidi’s goal levelling the scores on aggregate with a gaffe that left onlookers stunned. Never settling into the match, he seemed at odds with the two central defenders before him.
Madrid’s liabilities in defence also seemed amplified as Marcelo’s form went south. All three of the crosses from which Juve scored came in from the right flank, where Martin de Sciglio and then Stefan Liechsteiner seemed to be having a field day.
Yet, Madrid’s biggest cull at half-time on the night was their most expensive buy of all time. Gareth Bale was unceremoniously replaced at half-time after a listless performance. This is a warning bell for the 12-time Champions League winners – their once hallowed trident of BBC cannot cut it anymore.
Questions will linger if the penalty awarded to Lucas Vazquez was correct or not – he certainly seemed to be nudged by Mehdi Benatia. Yet the reaction that the Juve squad handed Michael Oliver was unsportsmanlike and Buffon of all people in the game should’ve kept his cool while protesting the decision with the ref.
Despite Ronaldo scoring with his most important kick of the ball, Buffon’s presence in goal will have had a psychological impact and it’s fair to say that Szczesny as deputy doesn’t instil the same level of fear.
Thus ended one of European football’s greatest careers in a haze of Red and White, as Buffon ducked into the tunnel while Ronaldo elevated the hosts into the final four. Yet, Madrid’s pockets of frailties are easily identifiable and exploitable, as Juventus showed.
The embers are still glowing but the fire has already burnt bright on a fantastic night for football enthusiasts.