Champions League Semi-Final Review

So now we know; it will be Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid in the Champions League Final 2016 at Milan’s San Siro stadium on May 28.

THIRD TIME UNLUCKY FOR GUARDIOLA AND BAYERN

The curse of the Spanish has struck yet again for Bayern Munich and coach Pep Guardiola. After previous semi-final defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona, it’s Atletico Madrid’s turn to break the hearts of the Bundesliga giants (and prove the betting exchanges right) after an away goals victory at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday evening. Starting a goal down from the first-leg in Spain, it was Bayern’s Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso who cancelled out their one goal deficit on 31 minutes, his deflected free-kick leaving Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak helpless.  The blue-touch paper was lit and a fiery encounter was in danger of spinning out of control as Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakır tried to keep both sides (and their coaching staff) in check.

 

MULLER WASTES GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

Just two minutes later, and the hosts were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead for the first time in the tie when they were awarded a penalty; Guardiola had recalled German international striker Thomas Muller to the starting XI and it was he who took the penalty, only to smash his kick straight at Oblak, who won the psychological battle by diving to his right to palm the shot away. That miss would ultimately prove to be a costly one in the final shake-up, as the sides went in level on aggregate at half-time.

 

GRIEZEMANN PROVES HE’S THE MAN FOR THE BIG OCCASION

Eight minutes after the re-start, Europe’s hottest striker at the moment, Antoine Griezemann, gave his team one foot in the final, when he played a delicate exchange of passes with Fernando Torres to breach the Bayern rear-guard who appealed in vain for offside; one on one with the world’s best goalkeeper, the French international made no mistake slotting the ball home to send the travelling contingent from Madrid into ecstasy; and reduce his coach to tears on the touchline.

 

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BAYERN SHOW INCREDIBLE COURAGE

This Bayern side however, has a big heart and they refused to throw in the towel despite now needing two goals to reach Milan. On 74 minutes, Robert Lewandowski (always a favourite to score on the best football bet predictions) gave them hope again, heading home from close range after great work from Arturo Vidal. The tension inside the stadium was becoming unbearable and ten minutes later, Atletico were awarded a dubious penalty when Torres looked to have been fouled on the edge of the area before falling to the floor inside the box. When Neuer saved the resulting spot-kick, justice looked to have been done but despite a final flurry of action, the Bavarian’s could not breach a disciplined Spanish defence for a third time. So Guardiola will leave the club in June having failed to deliver the ultimate prize, his opposite number however, gets a chance to wipe-out the bitter memories of 2014’s defeat in Lisbon.

 

BALE PROVES TO BE MADRID’S REAL DEAL

In Wednesday’s second semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu between Real Madrid and Manchester City, an own goal by Fernando after great work from Gareth Bale proved the decisive moment in a match short on drama. With Cristiano Ronaldo back from injury, the anticipation proved to be more memorable than the actual 90 minutes, with a fantastic show of strength from Real Madrid’s fans on the streets as the team bus headed towards the stadium. Once the game kicked-off, the visitors were struck a huge blow after only eight minutes, when they lost their inspirational captain Vincent Kompany to injury once again. 12 minutes later came the decisive moment of the contest, as the Welsh wizard Bale caught the Manchester City defence asleep, before firing the ball towards goal which took a slight deflection off Fernando to leave goalkeeper Joe Hart stranded.

 

MANCHESTER CITY FAIL TO SPARKLE

Manchester City never really recovered from that early set-back, Argentine striker Sergio Aguero was largely anonymous throughout the 90 minutes, apart from a sizzling drive in the closing stages which brushed the top of Kaylor Navas’s goal. Luca Modric should have put the match beyond any doubt seven minutes after the interval when he found himself one on one with Hart; the England international goalkeeper managing to block the effort to keep his side in the game. The Citizens were clearly missing their Spanish play-maker David Silva, who is out for the rest of the season with injury with coach Manuel Pellegrini surprising most observers before the game when he left Raheem Sterling on the bench. Whether it was the fact that they were participating in their first ever Champions League semi-final, or that the team just failed to find its sparkle when it really mattered, Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the summer will see major changes at the Etihad Stadium ahead of the new campaign.

 

THE FINAL SHOWDOWN

So just two years after they met in the final in Lisbon, it’s another all Madrid affair at the San Siro Stadium in Milan on May 28. Once again, it will be the irresistible force against the immovable object as Zidane’s slick, attacking Real Madrid side come up against the supremely organized Atletico, marshalled by the ebullient Diego Simeone. Two years ago, Los Colchoneros were four seconds away from winning their first ever Champions League, before Sergio Ramos broke their resistance and ultimately their hearts, as Real went on to win 4-1 after extra-time. It’s unlikely that Simeone will allow his side to make the same mistake twice and that defeat in Portugal if anything, has turned them into an even more compact unit. The countdown begins to the biggest club match in European football.

*LATEST FINAL ODDS (90 mins only)

Real Madrid 2.40 Draw 3.20 Atletico Madrid 3.00

*odds courtesy of Paddy Power

Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)

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