Real Madrid scrape into semis, as European elite assembles
Javier Hernandez breaks the hearts of ten-man Atletico Madrid after 180 minutes of resistance
Real Madrid 1 Atletico Madrid 0 [Real win 1-0 on aggregate]. One hundred and eighty minutes of football, and just one goal, but what a priceless strike it was from Javier Hernandez to secure the holders a place in the Champions League semi-final draw on Friday.
After failing to score in the first leg, the Real faithful had to wait another 88 minutes before the obdurate Atletico defence was finally unlocked by Hernandez's goal, created by a superb run and square ball from Cristiano Ronaldo.
So Real remain on course to defend their Champions League title and Atletico, beaten in last year's final, return home unable to figure out a way to beat their neighbours in Europe's showpiece tournament. They can manage it in every other competition, from La Liga to the Spanish Cup to the Super Cup, but in the space of 12 months they have failed on three occasions to defeat Real in Europe, despite the fact that last night their opponents were without the injured Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
"Tonight we played a good game, we had good control, we didn't give them a chance to counter attack," said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti. "We found the right solution in the last minutes."
The solution came from Hernandez, loaned to Madrid by Manchester United at the start of the season, and Ancelotti later lavished praise on the Mexican marksman. "Javier Hernandez was fantastic," he declared. "He played really well and he deserved the goal. He hasn't played a lot this season but when I needed him he was ready. He is a real professional."
The tie turned on the dismissal of Atletico's Arda Turan on 75 minutes, the Turk shown a controversial second yellow card for what looked like an innocuous challenge on Sergio Ramos. But with Turan gone, Atletico lost the man who had been shadowing Ronaldo and the Portuguese star made the most of his new-found freedom. His run into the Atletico box drew the attention of their defence, allowing Ronaldo to pick out an unmarked Hernandez for the all-important goal. Describing it "my most important goal", the 26-year-old Hernandez added: "I was the one who scored, but it belongs to everyone. The people who believed in me, my teammates and my family."
Real's victory increases to 31 their number of appearances in Champions League/European Cup semi-finals, a record tally in the competition. Fellow semi-finalists Barcelona are just one behind while Bayern Munich (25) and Juventus (22) are third and fourth respectively in the order of the merit - proof that the balance of power in European football does not change easily.
The Italians reached their latest semi on Wednesday after a goalless draw away at Monaco. Defending a 1-0 advantage from the first-leg, Juventus were dominated by their French hosts for much of the game but Gianluigi Buffon was rarely troubled in the visitors' goal as the Italian champions made it through to the last four for the first time since 2003.