Spanish giants Real Madrid travel to Paris on Friday as they attempt to win the Champions League for the 14th time when they face Liverpool on Saturday night.
To say that Carlo Ancelotti’s side has had a rollercoaster ride to the final is an understatement: Real Madrid have lost four matches in the tournament and yet they still have a brilliant chance of lifting the silverware.
The first of those four defeats was against FC Sheriff in the group stage as Madrid missed a host of chances and then got caught by a sucker punch.
However, that was in the group stage and a relatively benign group allowed Real Madrid to recover and qualify as group winners and that set up a last-16 tie against Paris Saint Germain.
PSG totally dominated Real Madrid in the Parc de Princes, managing 8 shots on target, while Ancelotti’s men didn’t have one effort between the posts. Had it not been for the heroics of Thibaut Courtois in goal, Madrid’s Champions League dream should have ended there. A 94th-minute goal from Kylian Mbappe gave PSG a much narrower win than their football deserved.
Nevertheless, as PSG led 1-0 (2-0 on aggregate) thanks to another Mbappe goal in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium three weeks later, Courtois’ work looked as if it would be in vain. But in fact, it would be another keeper who would prove to be decisive in the tie.
Gianluigi Donnarumma dithered in possession and allowed himself to be bullied by Benzema in the 61st minute and the striker got Madrid back into the tie. On another night and on a different ground, a different referee could well have penalized Benzema for a foul on Donnarumma, but this was the Bernabeu and the goal stood, reports Xinhua.
PSG turned to jelly and the Madrid fans suddenly started to believe and two more goals from Benzema in two minutes (the second after some comedy defending) saw Madrid into the quarterfinals.
It was the perfect time to visit Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, who had been thrown into turmoil over doubts about their future under Roman Abramovich.
Real Madrid once again had plenty to thank Courtois for, but Benzema was the hero that gave his side what looked like an unassailable 3-1 away win — surely the return leg was a formality.
Of course, it wasn’t as Chelsea found their feet and their football and proceeded to hand out a lesson in football that saw them dominate a sluggish Real Madrid with goals from Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger and Timo Werner and if Marcos Alonso hadn’t been unlucky to see a goal ruled out for handball it could have been so much different.
With 10 minutes left to play, Real Madrid were again on their way out, but that was when Luka Modric picked out Rodrygo to level the tie on aggregate. Benzema (of course) would then win the game in extra time, but not before Christian Pulisic missed two great chances to have won it for Chelsea in 90 minutes.
And next up were Manchester City and a frantic first leg, where Madrid were 2-0 down after 11 minutes before ending 4-3 on the night. Everything will be decided in the Bernabeu once again.
Groundhog Day came a week later. Man City led 1-0 thanks to Riyad Mahrez’s 76th-minute strike and in the 89th minute, Jack Grealish had two clear chances — one of which was cleared off the line — to double their lead on the night.
But time was up and Real Madrid needed to score twice. surely there was no way back. But of course, there was, with Rodrygo netting twice in two minutes as Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte failed to cover themselves in defensive glory.
From then the result was never in doubt, even though Phil Foden missed another chance to score a decisive goal for Pep Guardiola’s side in normal time.
To say Real Madrid have ridden their luck is perhaps an understatement, but at the same time, no other team could have produced so many miracle recoveries without belief in their ability to do so.
There will be no home advantage in Paris and Liverpool will probably have more fans in the stands, but Real Madrid will travel full of confidence, while their rivals will look at their results and even if they lead by a couple of goals with five minutes left to play, they will know it’s not over until the final whistle blows.
(Inputs from IANS)