Champions League: Real and City serve delicacies – Sport

There are semi-final duels in which the final point seems to have been set after the first leg; in the case of the duel between Real Madrid and Manchester City, there was at most a semicolon on Tuesday. The two colossuses of European football drew 1-1 in Madrid and postponed the decision until next Wednesday, in Manchester. The goals of Madrid’s Vinícius Jr. and Kevin De Bruyne were delicacies more flavorful than Spanish Pata Negra ham. Well-hung guided missiles that left you wanting more in many ways. If you needed proof of how high the level was, you could pinpoint it by a rather unusual circumstance: the first substitution didn’t come until the 80th minute.

The extraordinary volume of the fans in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu showed that it was a special game. And also because Madrid President Florentino Pérez appeared in the tunnel between the dressing room and the field before the game started. While the Madrid Ultras opened a giant tifo – a stylized Viking holding the pot – the television images showed Pérez high-fiving the squad members. Like a general before battle. Before the defensive battle, as it turned out.

One could have guessed. Between the lines, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti had made it clear the night before that he wanted to survive the first leg first and foremost. Not that Real Madrid are complex-laden. Especially not in the premier class, which Real won for the 14th time last year. But because Spain’s and Europe’s record champions had contested and won the cup final less than 72 hours before the start of the game on Tuesday. Hence the defensive stance, which almost bore traits of “rope-a-dope”. Madrid buried themselves deep in their own penalty area. With Toni Kroos in the nominal role of the “six”, but often helping out as a libero between the two central defenders David Alaba and Antonio Rüdiger. And Ancelotti’s tactical calculations paid off.

You can tell the game chronologically. So based on the chances that City created: from long-range shots by Kevin De Bruyne (8th) and Rodri (14th), who warmed up Thibaut Courtois early on, or the two comparatively harmless attempts by former Dortmund player Erling Haaland (15th/ 16.). Or even from the first “Uuuuuyyy”, which echoed through the Bernabéu and, as an echo of the previous year, evoked all the ghosts of the past.

The ‘Uuuuuyyy’ came from Brazilian left winger Vinicius Jr. as he smashed through to the baseline and tried to cross to Karim Benzema; Ruben Dias saved at the last second. There they were again, the thoughts of the semi-final second leg from May 2022, when Real Madrid was 0-1 down against City in the 90th minute and was apparently eliminated – and in added time put on one of the most adventurous catch-ups in the history of the Champions League. When the referee blew the whistle and it was 3-1 to Madrid, City were largely inexplicably eliminated.

In Madrid there is room for a paradox

And this time? In a way, it was déjà vu. City had 75 percent possession and delivered a rhetorical tour de force. But then Eduardo Camavinga and Modric played a one-two in their own half on the left-hand chalk line, Camavinga galloped like a foal across half the field, passed to Vinícius, who put the ball in front of himself and then shot under the crossbar. 1-0 (36′)!

The “Uuuuuyyy” returned to the Bernabéu Stadium – the second half had barely started: Karim Benzema chased into the penalty area from the left and just missed the left corner of the City goal (50th). Above all, a little later there was a scene that seemed to prove Madrid’s invulnerability: De Bruyne was released and charged at the Madrid goal with the ball at his feet. He aimed with all his might at the goalkeeper’s left corner – but his compatriot Courtois extended his right arm and parried the shot with a save that cemented his status as the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. The fact that the scene was canceled for offside played no role in the psychological component.

But behold, there was room for a paradox: Madrid gained greater control of the game – and City scored. After a bad pass from Camavinga in the middle of the field, City captain Ilkay Gündogan put it on De Bruyne, who shot from 19 meters with the outside of his right foot. Courtois stretched his 2.00 meter height in vain. Ancelotti saw the yellow card – the Madrid coach protested because the ball was said to have been out of bounds a few seconds before Camavinga’s bad pass. Madrid kept pushing – and almost equalized in the 90th minute: Aurelien Tchouameni, who came on for Kroos, shot from 19 meters and forced Éderson to show that he too was up to a gigantic game. The Brazilian keeper fished the ball out of the corner – and thus ensured that City’s chances of reaching the final against Inter Milan or AC Milan did not worsen at the last second.

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