UCL: Real Madrid survives wasteful Roma; Wolfsburg ousts Gent
There were no shocks in the first set of round of 16 second legs in the Champions League Tuesday, as first-leg winners Real Madrid and Wolfsburg made it into the quarterfinals. Real Madrid had a few nervous moments before two second-half goals–including the 90th of Cristiano Ronaldo's career in the Champions League–earned a 2-0 win on the day, 4-0 on aggregate. Meanwhile, Wolfsburg beat Gent 1-0 on Andre Schurrle's goal to progress 4-2 on aggregate. Both teams will be in the draw next week, and they await the outcome of the remaining six series to see who will be joining them.
Here is what caught our eye from their matches:
Player of the Day: Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid)
The score was 0-0 when Vazquez came on for Gareth Bale after an hour, and within five minutes, the sub had made his mark. Taking Luka Modric's pass on the right flank, Vazquez made space to jink past Lucas Digne and fire the ball into the danger zone for Ronaldo to volley the ball over the line.
It was a moment of huge relief for the Spanish host, and it's hard to ignore that the creator was the young Spaniard who was on the end of Ronaldo's (misinterpreted) criticism after last week's defeat to Atletico Madrid. "Any team needs its best players. I'm not saying Danilo, Jese, Lucas [Vazquez] and [Mateo] Kovacic are not good, but those who are missing are very good," said Ronaldo of the absences of Bale and Benzema.
Ronaldo quickly explained the misunderstanding, and he could have had no complaints about the quality of Vazquez's cross.
That released the pressure on the home side–and deflated Roma–and three minutes later, Ronaldo released James Rodriguez, who was booed earlier in the game (Madrid's big-name players are seemingly booed on rotation these days), who lashed the ball under Wojciech Szczesny at his near post. Vazquez then set up Ronaldo for a gilt-edged chance soon after, but he rolled it wide. Madrid may be pleased that Bale is back to fitness, but his replacement did a fine job when he came on.
Moment of the Day: Roma rues missed chances
At this stage of the competition last season, Real Madrid beat Schalke 2-0 away from home, and was all set to coast through the second leg. It didn't quite work out like that: Schalke won 4-3 and Madrid squeaked through 5-4 on aggregate. There was nothing like that drama in this tie, but the balance of chances to the underdog visitor was similar.
Madrid tested Wojciech Szczesny a few times in the first half, but Roma created the better chances.
Mo Salah was too fast for Madrid's defense over and over again and after 13 minutes, he crossed for Edin Dzeko, who was unmarked at the far post. The Bosnian had scored three goals in his last five games, but here he was showing his pre-Luciano Spalletti form, when he went 10 matches without a goal.
He sliced wide when clean through against Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and Salah did the same shortly after.
A bigger miss came early in the second half, which Madrid began on the front foot, looking for a goal to kill off the tie. Salah's pace again cut the defense to shreds, and the ball ricocheted back to the Egyptian, who, again, struck it wide from 12 yards out, once again failing to hit the target. Three times the visitor was 1-on-1 against Navas, and three times the goalkeeper did not even have to make a save.
When Alessandro Florenzi did capitalize on the space left by Marcelo, Navas was sharp to the chance and pushed it wide. Kostas Manolas hit another on target that Navas stopped. If one of those efforts had gone in, it could have changed the complexion of the series. As it was, a 4-0 aggregate win in no way reflects the chances that Roma created, and leaves it going home with plenty of regrets.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Totti's European farewell?
Roma also made a significant substitution with 17 minutes to go: off came Stephan El-Shaawary and on came Francesco Totti, 39 years old (and 23 years after his debut). These are the dog days of Totti's Roma career, and this appearance had the whiff of the swan song about it.
Marcelo clapped him onto the pitch and Casemiro gave him a high five when he ran past him. Totti once almost signed for Real Madrid, but instead became a legend at Roma. The decision that he, and the club, has to make, is how best to plan his exit strategy: spend one more year on the bench making the occasional cameo, or move straight "upstairs" to an executive position with the club? Or, potentially, spend a few years on a worldwide tour in China or MLS before returning to Roma?
Spalletti avoided one potential controversy by giving Totti game time here.
Quarterfinal outlook for Real Madrid, Wolfsburg
Maybe it was the fact that Madrid went into the game 2-0 up and wasn't sure whether to stick or twist, but any of the teams still in the competition watching this might not be too frightened of Zinedine Zidane's side on this showing. Real was at sea in defense, and only Roma's wastefulness in front of goal prevented a totally different tone to the tie. If Zidane is to be judged on the big games, so far his Madrid has lost to Atletico Madrid and, for long periods, been troubled by Roma, despite a (flattering) 4-0 aggregate win. Out of contention in the league, the Champions League is all Madrid has to play for this season; it will have to sharpen up at the back to progress further.
This is uncharted territory for Wolfsburg, which is in the last eight for the first time. This was a professional performance from a side that has not reached some of the heights of last season in the Bundesliga, but has shown an ability to step it up in Europe this season.
For Schurrle, Tuesday's goal-scoring hero, his run of form has come just in time, with Euro 2016 less than 100 days away.
He scored a hat trick against Hannover one week ago, got an assist against Borussia Monchengladbach over the weekend and struck the goal that sealed the Wolves's place in the quarterfinals (and all this after only three goals all season).
“It was important for me to show Joachim Low and the national team that I'm still here and I can make a difference,” he said after his Hannover heroics.
Schurrle could be competing with Mario Gotze for a spot in the Germany squad; Gotze has spent the last five games stuck on the Bayern Munich bench, so the timing favors Schurrle. In recent years, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Juventus have been underdog clubs that have reached the final; this Wolfsburg side does not have that quality, which is why most teams will want to be drawn against it next week.