It turned out to be a bridge too far for Juventus as they very nearly scripted the mother of all comebacks to beat Real Madrid 3-1 in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night , but crashed out of the competition 4-3 on aggregate.
After fellow Italian side Roma had stunned Barcelona in Rome on Tuesday night, Juventus took a leaf out of the Giallorossi’s book by racing into a 2-0 lead courtesy of two fine headers from Mario Mandzukic in the first-half.
Since the first leg had ended in a 3-0 away win for Real Madrid, Juventus still needed a third goal to force the tie into extra-time and when Blaise Matudi took advantage of a Keylor Navas howler to score the visitors’ third, a stirring comeback was on.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Real were awarded a controversial penalty in the 93rd minute and Cristiano Ronaldo, the scourge of Juventus for the past two season, stepped up to break their hearts and send the defending champions through to the semis.
This was a tie that had everything and here are the five main talking points:
So close, yet so far for Juventus
Despite the fractious ending, Massimiliano Allegri’s men can depart the Spanish capital with their heads held high.
They may be bowing out of the continental competition, but they gave Real Madrid an almighty scare in their won backyard, didn’t they?
After Cristiano Ronaldo had single-handedly shattered their dreams in the first leg, not many had given the Bianconeri a chance at the home of the defending champions, but a first-half brace from Mario Mandzukic had the Bernabeu rocking.
And the comeback was very much on when Blaise Matudi bundled in the third after Keylor Navas’ blunder in the second-half, only for Ronaldo to play spoilsport at the death.
A 3-1 away win in the end for Allegri’s men, no mean feat, but in the end it was another year of unfulfilled expectations in the greatest club competition known to man.
Mario Mandzukic returns to haunt Real Madrid
The Croatian loves playing against Real Madrid, doesn’t he?
The former Atletico Madrid man’s omission from the starting Xi in the first leg proved to be a key factor and it looked like the 31-year-old had a point to prove against a team he’s got a excellent scoring record.
He may have spent just the one season at the Vicente Calderon, but Mandzukic always came up with a goal in the Madrid Derby, notably scoring the fourth in a 4-0 win over Real too and on Wednesday, he was on fire.
Two towering headers, normally Cristiano Ronaldo’s forte, silenced the Bernabeu as Juventus began to hope.
It’s not just the goals, he was his usual tireless self and continued to disrupt Real’s breaks, not unlike what Roberto Firmino did last night for Liverpool against Manchester City.
Mandzukic even took one for the team as he got himself cautioned fairly early on but crucially, managed to keep his composure to prevent his side from going down to 10 men.
It will forever be a case of what if for the Bianconeri faithful, for Allegri’s decision to bench the combative Croatian in Turin ultimately turned out to be costly.
Has Zinedine Zidane lost faith in Gareth Bale?
After Gareth Bale got the nod ahead of Karim Benzema to start, Real fans were hoping their club-record signing would light up the Bernabeu, as he has so often in the past, but the Welshman was effectively a shadow of his usual self.
Barring one exceptional long ball to find Ronaldo, Bale did little else of note and Zidane hooked him at the interval.
A half-time substitution only means two things, unless a player is injured.
Either the manager’s got his tactics horribly wrong, or the player who’s started hasn’t been up to scratch in the opening 45 minutes.
To be fair, considering Casemiro also came off in a double change, it could be a case of both, but after all the speculation surrounding Bale’s future, it seems the Real Madrid boss has given up on the ex-Tottenham Hotspur man.
Niggling injuries and subsequent loss of form have prevented Bale from realising his true potential in Madrid and despite being a triple Champions League winner, one feels it will not have been a success on the individual level for a player once billed as Ronaldo’s successor.
Real chinks in Madrid’s armour
Yes, Juventus played the game of their lives, but conceding three goals at home is far from the done thing.
And this is when the Bianconeri were without Paulo Dybala.
One would argue that Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos was missing too, which forced Zinedine Zidane to put the untested Jesus Vallejo in the deep end, but the 21-year-old actually did pretty well on his first big test.
It were the other three—Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane—who didn’t have the best of games.
Marcelo was at fault for allowing Sami Khedira to swing in an inviting cross for the opener and Carvajal and Varane seemed lost as Mandzukic rose high to head home.
The Croatian’s second one was almost a mirror of the first, with Lichsteiner this time whipping in an delightful ball but once again, Mandzukic was left unmarked to beat Keylor Navas for the second time on the night.
The third goal was a blunder from Navas and the Costa Rican knew he didn’t cover himself in glory but the way the cross split the Real defence wide open will worry Zidane.
Ramos’ return won’t solve anything and while Los Blancos get by due to their prolific attackers, the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Roma will have watched the tie with keen interest.
Another worrying sign was the fact that when Casemiro is off his game, Real have a tendency to collapse and while the Brazilian hardman is normally consistent,
They’ll have taken notes for the future, you can bet your right arm on it.
Pulsating game that will go down as a classic
There was unprecedented drama everywhere you looked.
Six yellow cards for the visitors and a crimson one for their ever-present—Gianluigi Buffon.
With Mandzukic’s first-half salvo and Matuidi’s third, Juventus seemed to have completed the unlikeliest of comebacks only for Ronaldo to prove he’s the man for the big occasion.
Referee Michael Oliver had a big call to make when Lucas Vazquez was bundled over by Medhi Benatia deep into injury-time and the English referee made the right call as he awarded the hosts a get-out-of-jail-card.
Yes, the contact was minimal, but there definitely was contact and the Moroccan should have known better than to come in from behind like that.
Juventus were incensed, but Gianluigi Buffon took his protest one step too far as he almost-manhandled the referee and was promptly given his marching orders in what just might be his final Champions League game.
Ronaldo stepped up, in his 150th UEFA Champions League game, and nervelessly sent his effort in the top-corner, despite the best efforts of a Wojciech Szczesny, to ensure the tie wouldn’t go into extra-time as Real stayed on course for a three-peat.
Over the course of the two legs, there were two resounding away wins, with some outstanding goals and this was a true football fan’s delight, from each and every angle.