Atletico Madrid gave holders Real Madrid an alrighty scare in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal, beating their arch-rivals 2-1 in the second leg on Wednesday night but bowing out 2-4 on aggregate.
After the first leg had ended 3-0 in Real’s favour thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, the return leg at the Vicente Calderon was always going to be interesting even if Los Blancos were virtually assured of a second consecutive final appearance.
And the hosts had an explosive start to the game, scoring two goals within the first 20 minutes to change the complexion of a tie that had looked finished.
Saul Niguez, who had a poor outing at the Santiago Bernabeu, scored a great header in the 12th minute from a Koke corner to get the hosts up and running in the tie.
Then Fernando Torres, replacing Kevin Gameiro in the starting XI, tumbled in the box after Raphael Varane had made a sloppy challenge on the Spanish forward. Antoine Griezmann stepped up and while his penalty wasn't the best, it somehow beat Keylor Navas in the 16th minute and the Calderon was roaring as a historic comeback seemed to be within their sight.
Unfortunately for them, there would be no more goals for Diego Simeone’s men as Los Blancos started to grow into the game and dictate possession, threatening Jan Oblak’s goal intermittently.
Tempers started to flare and referee Cuneyt Cakir was forced to dish out a few cautions as the challenges came hard and fast but then a moment of brilliance put the game to bed.
Cristiano Ronaldo took a fast throw-in but as Karim Benzema received the ball near the corner flag surrounded by three Atletico defenders, there seemed to be no danger whatsoever. The much-derided Frenchman somehow dribbled past all three on the line to lay it off for Toni Kroos. While Oblak made a terrific save from the German’s shot, Isco was on hand to poke home the rebound to once again put Real in the driver’s seat.
Isco’s strike in the 42nd minute put Atletico back at square one as they now required three more goals and as the second-half began, it became obvious they themselves did not believe it was possible.
In fact, Real dominated the early exchanges of the second period and while Atletico came back into the match, it never looked enough. Navas made amends for the penalty with a great double save to deny first Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro to preserve Real’s aggregate lead.
Awaiting Real on June 3 are Italian side Juventus. While the Bianconeri will be stiffer opponents than the likes Zinedine Zidane’s men have faced till now, the Champions League does bring out that extra from them and it will be a titanic clash at the very least.