Inevitable Madrid continue Champions League love affair

AFP , Thursday 9 May 2024

Real Madrid turned to the same old story in the Champions League and even though Bayern Munich knew all of the words, they were powerless to stop the kings of Europe pulling off another improbable and yet inevitable comeback.

Real Madrid
Real Madrid's players celebrate scoring during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 8, 2024. Photo: AFP

 

Joselu's late double fired the record 14-time winners into the Wembley final on June 1, just as it seemed Bayern had set up another all-German battle as in 2013.

Madrid's Jude Bellingham will face his former team Borussia Dortmund in search of the 15th, after Los Blancos returned from what he described as "dead and buried" to triumph.

"We saw ourselves in the final and now I'm lost for words," said shellshocked Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

"Madrid are immortal," wrote Spanish newspaper Marca. "The eternal miracle," proclaimed another capital publication, AS.

Madrid will be firm favourites to extend their dominance in Europe after reaching their sixth Champions League final in the last 11 years and winning five of the last 10.

Regardless of whether they are outplayed, as by Manchester City in the quarter-finals, or on the verge of elimination, as against Bayern, Madrid so often find a way where other teams would wither.

Alphonso Davies' second-half strike had Bayern dreaming of a 2013 final rematch against Bundesliga rivals Dortmund, but journeyman forward Joselu intervened in the dying embers of the match.

"It's happened again -- it's happened so often," marvelled Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti, a four-time winner of the trophy as a coach.

"Fans who push us on, a fantastic stadium, players who never stop believing -- it's simply something magical."

Going for the 15th
 

Madrid have enjoyed many spectacular comebacks over the years but the last time they lifted the trophy, in 2022, their run to the final defied belief at every step.

Two goals down on aggregate against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, an 18-minute Karim Benzema hat-trick sent them through.

Despite trailing Chelsea 3-0 in the semi-final second leg, a majestic Luka Modric pass and Rodrygo's finish forced extra-time, and Madrid went on to win.

Thomas Tuchel was Chelsea coach at the time and even with that first-hand experience, the Bayern boss could not prepare his team for Madrid's penchant for European magic.

Two injury-time goals in just over a minute from Rodrygo rescued Madrid in the semi-final against Manchester City -- and even though Liverpool outplayed them in the Paris final, Los Blancos triumphed.

However, the match which sprang to mind most readily was Madrid's previous victory over Bayern in 2018, when goalkeeper Sven Ulreich made an inexplicable error to allow Benzema in.

This time it was veteran Neuer, who had excelled throughout, who suddenly found himself spilling a shot he would usually contain comfortably and Joselu pounced.

Fellow goalkeepers Gianluigi Donnarumma, Loris Karius and Edouard Mendy will have sympathy after they all committed high-profile errors against Madrid in recent years, contributing to Los Blancos' burgeoning trophy cabinet.

AC Milan, with seven Champions League wins, are Madrid's closest contenders on exactly half the Spanish giants' tally.

Final opponents Dortmund have lifted the trophy on just one occasion, back in 1997, and few will give them a chance against the might of Madrid.

Since ending an 11-year dry spell by winning their 10th Champions League during Ancelotti's first spell at the helm a decade ago, Madrid have not looked back.

"We always believe in ourselves... it happened again and we're going for the 15th," said Vinicius Junior, who scored the goal that won Madrid's 14th.

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