Chaos, Controversy, Cristiano: Vulnerable Real Madrid Perseveres vs. Valiant Juventus

Without Sergio Ramos to man the back line, Real Madrid was vulnerable and doomed to Juventus's aerial attack, but a stoppage-time penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo rendered all of that moot, as Real joins Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Roma in the Champions League semifinals.
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Real Madrid and Bayern Munich joined Liverpool and Roma to complete the Champions League semifinal picture, but while the German champion made it through with tedious ease, the defending European champion was pushed far closer than anybody could realistically have believed.

Three goals up from the away leg, Real Madrid conceded twice in the first half to Mario Mandzukic, and it seemed there could be a repeat of Barcelona’s astonishing exit on Tuesday when Blaise Matuidi leveled the aggregate score at 3-3 in the second half.

But a late penalty that led to Gianluigi Buffon’s dismissal in what was likely his final game in the Champions League gave Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to score his 120th Champions League goal and settle the tie at the death, 4-3 on aggregate.

Bayern’s evening was far more comfortable, a 0-0 draw against Sevilla confirming a 2-1 aggregate win.

Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:

What was Behind Real Madrid's struggle?

The main criticism of Zinedine Zidane as a coach has always that his side very rarely controls games, relying on its superior firepower to outgun opponents. As Sir Alex Ferguson explained after Manchester United had lost a Champions League quarterfinal 3-2 to Real Madrid in 2000, in a knockout competition, that brings risk. Have 15 shots and allow your opponent three and you should win; have five and allow your opponent none and you can’t lose.

Barcelona’s shocking defeat to Roma on Tuesday had perhaps kindled more doubts than Madrid would usually have felt after a 3-0 away win in the first leg, but those were intensified as Mario Mandzukic, who had scored against Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final, headed in Sami Khedira’s cross in the second minute. Without the suspended Sergio Ramos, Madrid looked horribly vulnerable at the back.

For the rest of the first half, the game swung wildly from end to end, rather supporting the theory that Europe’s elite, rendered complacent by their dominance of their domestic leagues, have forgotten how to defend. A second goal for Mandzukic arrived after 37 minutes. This time it was the substitute Stephan Lichtsteiner who crossed. But the final result was the same, Mandzukic climbing above the Madrid defense at the back post to power in a header. It was the first time Madrid had been two goals behind at halftime in a home Champions League game since 2000.

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The problem wasn’t just that Dani Carvajal was no match physically for Mandzukic, but that Madrid struggled to cut out the supply. Once again, Marcelo, such an effective fullback when he can attack, was found wanting defensively as Juve pursued the same tactic over and over: get the ball wide right and stand up a cross to the back post for Mandzukic to attack. Even when the Croatian didn’t rumble in at the far post, crosses provoked trouble, and Keylor Navas dropping Douglas Costa’s ball for Blaise Matuidi to hook in an equalizer brought the series level.

But Madrid has developed a habit of winning even in the most unpromising circumstances and as Juve dropped off, seemingly content to wait for extra time, Lucas Vazquez was barged over by Mehdi Benatia as Cristiano Ronaldo headed back across goal. Ronaldo, inevitably, converted the penalty and then, in keeping with a generally petulant performance, drew a booking for taking his shirt off in celebration.


A horrible way for Buffon to go out

This was, almost certainly, Gianlugi Buffon’s final game in the Champions League, and it could hardly have ended in a worse manner. There have been questions about the 40-year-old’s form this season, but he was excellent here, making a number of important saves. But when the English referee Michael Oliver awarded the last-gasp penalty, Buffon lost his cool and, as a number of players surrounded the official in protest, he clearly manhandled him.

Oliver once sent off Angel Di Maria at Old Trafford, giving him a second yellow card for pushing him in the back. Here, his reaction was just as decisive. No player has a right to touch a referee in anger, not even a genial veteran like Buffon, and while the red card was the only possible decision, it marks a terribly sad way for him to leave the European stage.

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Bayern finishes the job

This, slightly weirdly, is only the fourth Champions league campaign in which Jupp Heynckes has been involved as manager. He’s always reached the final, winning the competition twice. His Bayern side has already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, which could mean either that he can focus fully on the Champions League or that his side will be critically undermined by a lack of domestic intensity. What it certainly seems to have is the best central defensive pairing in Europe: Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are not merely complementary but have been together for years.

They were solid enough on Wednesday, although rarely tested in a strangely flat game in which Sevilla never seemed to believe it had a chance of victory. Perhaps significantly, Juan Bernat, who had made the mistake that gave Sevilla its goal in the first leg, was left out for Rafinha.

Bayern for long periods allowed Sevilla possession, sitting off and barely even pressing, but there was never much doubt that the German champion would stretch its run without a home defeat to 22 games and reach the semifinal.