MADRID — Three thoughts from a wild Champions League quarterfinal second leg as Real Madrid defeated Bayern Munich 4-2 in extra time (6-3 aggregate) …
1. Real progress on night of high controversy
With these two teams on display, perhaps we should never have expected anything but a night full of drama and tension. This should have been a Champions League classic, but the talking points will focus less on the game’s twists and turns given the two decisions by referee Viktor Kassai and his team that handed the tie to Real Madrid.
At 2-1 up with six minutes to play, Bayern Munich looked the better side. Then, Arturo Vidal was controversially dismissed, and in extra time, an offside Cristiano Ronaldo scored what proved to be the decisive goal of his hat trick in what had been an enthralling match.
Bayern had dominated early on and created the first big chance eight minutes in, Thiago Alcantara looking certain to convert before Marcelo put in a desperate block. The hosts soon gained a foothold, with Karim Benzema heading wide before Dani Carvajal saw a crisp effort finger-tipped wide by Manuel Neuer. Neuer was lucky in the 28th minute, fumbling to Sergio Ramos but seeing Jerome Boateng — clearing off the line — spare his blushes.
The openings would come regularly: Toni Kroos shot high and was then thwarted by an impeccable Mats Hummels tackle before Ronaldo lashed over. By half-time, Real seemed well in control of the tie, but it was not a sensation that lasted long. Arjen Robben missed a golden chance five minutes after the interval, but moments later, he was fouled in the area by Casemiro. Robert Lewandowski scored from the spot and left Bayern a goal from victory.
They almost completed the turnaround when Vidal hooked a Robben dink over and you could cut the tension with a knife now, but when Ronaldo emphatically headed home Casemiro’s cross with Real’s first chance of the half, he appeared to have stopped the revival in its tracks.
Not for long.
The Bernabeu was stunned into silence within seconds as a mix-up between Keylor Navas and Sergio Ramos led to the ball rebounding off the defender and, in agonising slow motion, trickling across the line. Bayern looked the more likely at that stage, but their advantage was ceded when Vidal, already booked, was harshly sent off six minutes from the end of normal time after winning the ball cleanly from Marco Asensio.
Play ebbed and flowed in the added 30 minutes despite the numerical discrepancy, with Neuer saving from Ronaldo and Asensio while Douglas Costa, seemingly overlooking Joshua Kimmich free in the box, wasted a glorious counter for Bayern.
The latter proved crucial. In the 105th minute, Ronaldo controlled a Ramos pass and, despite being a yard offside, he spun and calmly converted, lashing home from 10 yards out. He completed his hat trick after a Marcelo break before, then Asensio slotted home to crown Real’s lucky night.
2. Bayern robbed by officials?
For long periods, this was some performance from Bayern, and they will justifiably feel robbed. The momentum was with them after what at the time seemed like a calamitous own goal by Ramos. One more goal would have sent them into the semifinals, and with 11 men on the pitch, it looked more than possible. Vidal’s red card changed the dynamic of the game yet again, but they were still a significant threat before Ronaldo’s goal was allowed to stand despite the Real striker clearly being offside.
Replays of both decisions will make painful viewing. It seemed clear enough in real time that Vidal had tackled Asensio fairly; perhaps Kassai was simply caught on the wrong side of the incident, but it was a huge call to make and handed the impetus to a Real side that had struggled for any fluency apart from a 15-minute spell before half-time.
There is further mitigation for Kassai in the fact that Vidal, who would be half the player if he didn’t operate on the very edge, had already flirted with a second booking after picking up his first yellow in the fifth minute for a needless clip on Isco. But Bayern will point to the more lenient treatment of Casemiro, who skated on thin ice himself after a caution of his own; he was particularly careless with one second-half foul on Robben.
There will be a strong sense of injustice, but it should be a source of pride to Carlo Ancelotti that his side looked threatening throughout the early stages of extra time despite being a player short and with Lewandowski subtituted to shore things up.
It may be cold comfort, but there were excellent performances throughout the Bavarian side. Hummels, a doubt before the game, put on a masterclass of control and timing at the back, while Boateng, similarly an injury concern, ran him close. Robben and Alaba were tireless too; Bayern deserved far more over the course of the tie, and the regrets will linger long.
3. Ronaldo comes good yet again
This was simply what Ronaldo does. There is always a showstopping moment, and here, with Real far from fluent, he came up with the goods yet again.
For long periods this had not been his night, but his hat trick — a bullet header, a left-footed finish and a simple tap-in — did the job and gave Real a record-breaking seventh-successive appearance in the Champions League semifinals.
Ronaldo will not care about the fact that his second goal (and perhaps, his third too, according to replays) should not have stood. It had not been a perfect performance from either him or Real, something encapsulated late in the first half when bursting forward down the right channel, he ignored an unmarked Benzema and shot straight at Neuer under pressure instead.
At his sharpest, Ronaldo would probably have left Bayern’s defence trailing in his wake but even if some of his powers are declining, his prowess as a match-winner of all shapes and sizes remains astonishing and the cornerstone of everything that this remarkably successful Real side is achieving in the Champions League.
For a large part of the night, Real seemed to be trapped between mentalities, whether trying to keep hold of what they had or pushing forward for the kill. Luka Modric flickered in patches, and their best player on the night was Marcelo, who put in a powerhouse performance and would not have been begrudged a goal had he elected to shoot instead of square to Ronaldo for his third.
But Ronaldo proved once again that when Real find themselves in a tight spot, he is the man to get them out of it. So, on they go in their relentless pursuit of history.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.