Scoring four Goals at the Bernabéu and still going home…something’s just don’t seem right!
The fact that Real Madrid made it through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League is not really breaking news, nor is it surprising that their victim was Schalke 04. What was incredible was that with six minutes left to go, the Germans found themselves within a goal of completing an extraordinary turn-around eliminating the reigning champions. Schalke won 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabéu, a result that was enough to end a 10-match winning run for Madrid but not ultimately to end their defence of the European Cup. After the final whistle Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of two goals, was seen shaking his head in disapproval, something he reiterated at the end of the game refusing to speak to the press. For all the professional betting tipsters this match was supposed to be an easy one, as Madrid had won 2-0 in Germany and their opponents had not impressed at all.
Schalke were superb, tearing into Madrid, terrifying them, as they had done since the 19th minute. Fed by Max Meyer, Tranquillo Barnetta found space where space was easy to find, on Madrid’s left, and from there delivered a ball across the penalty area and it ran on to Christian Fuchs who took one touch before shooting. It was not a great shot but it met weak wrists and the ball went off Iker Casillas’s hands and into the corner of the goal. The finish may have been fortuitous but the lead was not. Soon after Ronaldo arrived to put Real back into contention with a header from a corner but it was short lived as a poor back-pass almost gave Schalke the lead again, with Huntelaar first thumping one off the crossbar before scoring the second in the very next minute. Casillas made the save this time, from Meyer, but he could only spill the ball into the path of Huntelaar who struck high into the net. Schalke were dominating, Madrid were unable to press, unable to play.
Some tranquillity soon arrived as Coentrão nudged the ball through to Karim Benzema, lurking in an offside position, the Frenchman cut inside horizontally from the left, drifted away from a couple of challenges and rolled the ball into the back of the net. This was still not enough to put down Schalke, as it was apparent that they were enjoying this game for its own sake. Even if they went out, which they had always expected to do, there was satisfaction in playing this way at the Santiago Bernabéu. Four minutes later the 19-year-old Leroy Sané, who had come on for his first Champions League game when Choupo-Moting had been forced off half an hour in, curled in a gorgeous left-footed shot and once again qualification was only two goals away, just as it had been at the start of the game, but the momentum was theirs. Time ticked away and, with Luka Modric finally introduced on the hour after a four-month absence through injury, Madrid gained a little control. Yet with six minutes let in the match, a loose ball fell to Huntelaar and he crashed a shot in off the bar. Schalke were 4-3 up and only a goal away now, it started to look like it was actually going to happen, especially when a minute later Sané curled a shot towards the far post, which Casillas had to dive full length to tip past the post. With seconds to spare, Casillas made another save, this time from Benedikt Höwedes but Real had done enough, to make it through to the next round.
The best football tipster would never have predicted such a close match nor would any of the Madrid fans or the players themselves, but they had made it through…Somehow1