PARIS: It was all Chelsea for 80 minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid had failed to show up at their own stadium.
The hosts’ 3-1 advantage from the first leg in London was vanished, and Chelsea, the holders, were ready to defeat them for the second year in a row. Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger, and Timo Werner had all scored to put them in up on aggregate. The semi-finals appeared to be within reach.
The ball was then touched by Luka Modric. When he looked up, he saw his teammate Rodrygo, who had only been on the pitch for two minutes, sprinting towards the Chelsea box. The Croatian midfield genius lifted a sumptuous 50-yard pass over the top of the Chelsea defence that landed perfectly for Rodrygo to lash home first-time on the volley past Edouard Mendy with the outside of his foot.
The comeback was on; an enthralling tie on aggregate, and their home fans were finally speaking up.
Then, six minutes into extra time, came the game-winning goal. Who else but Karim Benzema, Real’s hat-trick hero in the first leg of this quarter-final tie, could have made the difference; the Frenchman, who had headed against the bar with Chelsea 2-0 up, finally finding a yard of space to make the difference. Rudiger was caught off guard by Vinicius Junior’s cross from the left, and when he slid, Benzema stooped to bury it beyond Mendy.
Chelsea couldn’t find the goal to force penalties after that, no matter how hard they tried. They had their chances as well, but their title defence would come to an end. Thomas Tuchel believed his team had been “unlucky,” whereas Rudiger said his team had “dominated.”
Real, on the other hand, seem to constantly find a way to win this competition, which they have won a record 13 times. They never seem to be done.
Chelsea’s Premier League opponents Manchester City, the finest club in England at the moment, and Liverpool, the second-best, may be standing in their way of a 14th European Cup, but it’s their unwavering faith that keeps them going and makes them the ultimate rulers of Europe.
Real could face Villarreal in the final on May 28 at the Stade de France in Paris, their less storied Spanish rivals who continue to punch above their weight and, earlier on Tuesday, became the first team to advance from the semi-finals when they defeated yet another European heavyweight in Bayern Munich.
For the first time since 2006, their route to the last four was equally spectacular.
BAYERN IS STUNNED BY CHUKWUEZE
After defeating Juventus in the round of 16, Unai Emery’s team drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich in Munich, advancing 2-1 on aggregate due to Samuel Chukwueze’s 88th-minute goal.
The side had two shots on goal throughout the two games and took both, led by former Real defender Raul Albiol, one of the team’s senior statesmen at 36, and fellow ex-Real star Dani Parejo.
Bayern, who won their sixth Champions League trophy in 2020, applied relentless pressure to Emery’s team at the Allianz Arena, taking the lead seven minutes into the second half via Robert Lewandowski. That was only a minute after Rudiger’s header had brought Chelsea back into the game in Madrid.
The Champions League magic was being given from two locations roughly 1500 kilometres apart. The two teams that went into their games with the goal of overcoming deficits were now equal. It was a question of who would wilt first: one side or the other.
Bayern is the team in question. After peppering Villarreal’s net with shots, they lost the game-winning goal on a stunning counterattack. Chukwueze, like Rodrygo for Real, had an almost instant impact. The Nigerian got on the end of a Gerard Moreno cross from the left flank four minutes after coming on, sweeping it into the top of the goal with his left foot on the run.
Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stated, “We didn’t lose it tonight.” “Unfortunately, we were unable to score the game’s second goal.”
Albiol stated that his team’s “dream continues” after winning the Europa League last season after defeating Manchester United in the final. Liverpool, a potential semi-final opponent, would be worried. Villarreal are a well-drilled and well-organized team with a penchant for upsetting European football’s upper crust.
Bayern’s setback highlighted manager Julian Nagelsmann’s decision to replace Lucas Hernandez at left-back with Alphonso Davies. Chukwueze harassed the Canadian into netting the equaliser, putting his team ahead on aggregate.
“THIS IS CRAZY!” At the end of the game, Villarreal sent out a tweet. That was the case.
Then there was mayhem in Madrid immediately after that.
Real defender Nacho Fernandez stated, “Nights like these at the Bernabeu give you goosebumps.”
CHELSEA REJECTED HEROIC REBELLION
Last season, Chelsea knocked Real out in the semi-finals en route to winning their second Champions League trophy, but Tuchel believed it was difficult for his team to recover from a first-leg deficit.
That would prove to be true in the end, but they came within 10 minutes of pulling off a miraculous rescue.
Mount’s 15th-minute goal set the tone, with Real instantly tense and Chelsea given early hope.
Mateo Kovacic had played an important role in the build-up, but it was Ruben Loftus-fast Cheek’s cross into Werner that took Real off guard, the German directing the ball into Mount’s path with his knee, who advanced and blasted past Thibaut Courtois.
After the half, Chelsea became even more aggressive and scored their second goal when Rudiger headed home a Werner corner.
Werner found Marcos Alonso inside the area four minutes later, and he smashed his finish into the top corner, only to have his attempt chalked out by the video assistant referee, who had identified a handball by the Spanish left defender.
It was only a matter of time for the visitors to score their third goal, which came in the 75th minute thanks to a fantastic piece of individual talent from Werner, who left two opponents on the ground before firing a crisp effort past Courtois and inside the far post.
But then came Modric and Benzema, and Real simply needed two flashes of brilliance to progress. From 2016 to 2017, they relied on this to become the first club in the Champions League era to win three titles in a row. That’s exactly what they achieved in 2014, when current manager Carlo Ancelotti led them to their 10th European Cup victory.
They will always be impossible to dismiss till they have players like Modric and Benzema, who have a combined age of 70 years and have made two classic contributions.
“It was another great night,” Modric recalled, “such a delicious tasting loss.” “We didn’t give up until the very last moment.” Another night of agony, but the main thing is that we’ve made it.”
That’s the only thing that matters in the end.