Juventus overcome shaky start to outlast Real Madrid and reach final
MADRID -- Three quick things from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu as Real Madrid-Juventus finishes 1-1 in Wednesday's Champions League semifinal second leg, and Juve go through 3-2 on aggregate to face Barcelona in next month's final.
1. Juve do it
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri on Tuesday predicted his team would face "95 long and interminable minutes." In the end it was only 94, but his side rode through some difficult moments to deservedly progress to their first Champions League final in over a decade.
Madrid were the better team through the first half, and Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty was the least that Carlo Ancelotti's side merited for a super-intense start. But after Alvaro Morata equalised 12 minutes into the second half, the home side never really looked likely to get the goal they needed to force extra time.
Allegri had bravely declined to go with an extra centre-back, instead keeping the same broad 4-4-2 starting shape from the first leg, with fit-again Paul Pogba coming into midfield. That formation had worked really well in the first leg, but there were issues almost from the start here.
Carlos Tevez was man of the match last week, and on Wednesday night he did cause Madrid problems when he dropped off the front to receive the ball, but too often he had no real support, and Los Blancos' defence was able to clear any major threats. Morata gave Real centre-back Raphael Varane the run-around last week, but the former Madrid youth striker was much less of a bother to his ex-teammates through the opening 45 minutes.
Juve were managing to win corners and set pieces around the area, but the delivery from veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo was surprisingly poor. However, as the game wore on, Pirlo & Co. began to look more and more comfortable.
One swift attack after the break saw Claudio Marchisio hammer a 25-yard shot just wide. Then the equaliser came: Pogba headed the ball into the centre, and Morata seemed to have an age to let the ball drop and then rifle a shot past Iker Casillas. Like in the first leg, the former Madrid youth teamer did not celebrate scoring against his old team, but the travelling fans in the top corner of the Bernabeu were euphoric in their cheering.
Suddenly, all of Juve's passes were sticking, with Pirlo and Arturo Vidal particularly impressive while playing keep-ball. Allegri waited for a while, and then withdrew Pirlo to send on Andrea Barzagli and go to five at the back. Left-back Patrice Evra stood out in the rearguard action, and although Madrid had plenty of the ball, visiting keeper Gianluigi Buffon had little to do through the closing stages.
Juve might even have sealed the deal earlier, with Marchisio and Pogba drawing excellent saves from Casillas. Morata's goal was enough, though, and the visiting team went to salute their fans on the whistle, as Madrid's players slumped to the floor.
2. Madrid only last an hour
Madrid began with much more intensity and focus than in the first leg and Gareth Bale headed just over from a chance created inside the opening 40 seconds.
Carlo Ancelotti's side were well on top and the chances kept coming. Ronaldo's free kick clipped the wall and flew over and Isco also shot just too high. Bale then made an opening for himself as he cut inside from the right wing, and his hammered 30-yard shot had Buffon scrambling.
So it was no surprise when Madrid took the lead midway through the half. Marcelo had a nightmare in the first leg, but was hugely influential through the first half here. The Brazilian left-back again made ground down the left wing, and James Rodriguez darted into the area.
Juve centre-half Giorgio Chiellini intervened clumsily and Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, as well as brushing away the complaints from the enraged visitors. Ronaldo, who missed a penalty versus Valencia in La Liga last weekend, kept his cool to beat Buffon from the spot.
Ancelotti's decision to start fit-again Karim Benzema looked to be paying off as the Frenchman operated in his usual playmaking centre-forward role, coming deep to get the ball and regularly finding Ronaldo with perceptive passes.
Benzema twice provided opportunities for his Portuguese teammate inside the opening stages, with first Evra just getting back to clear and, the second time, Ronaldo surprisingly choosing not to shoot after he had committed a covering defender.
Madrid should really have made their dominance pay and Morata's goal left them needing to score at least one more. Benzema faded after halftime -- understandably given his time out -- and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was called for with 25 minutes remaining.
There was no real late charge from Madrid, however. The hosts had lots of the ball and pressed and pressed, but found it difficult to open up the well-organised Juve defence. The injured Luka Modric was again missed, with Ancelotti's side lacking ingenuity in central areas and resorting to tossing in cross after cross. Bale headed the best chance wide from Ronaldo's delivery.
Exhaustion appeared to catch up with James and Isco and by the end there was a resignation about Madrid's attacks. They had only really played well for an hour here, and 20 minutes before halftime in the first leg. That was not enough to go through.
3. End of an era for Madrid
Even before the last Madrid fan had left the Bernabeu, the inquest into this season had begun. Los Blancos played superbly well through the autumn, racking up a world-record 22 consecutive wins, but they have been found wanting down the stretch. A number of senior figures -- starting with coach Ancelotti -- now face very uncertain futures.
For a while this did not seem the case at all. Even the not-always-popular Casillas and Bale were getting cheered by the raucous home crowd as they felt a long awaited Clasico final against Barcelona was nearing. But once Juve had equalised there was a lack of belief and quality among the home side, and never really a feeling that one of the Bernabeu's famous European comebacks was likely.
With Madrid's hopes of winning the La Liga title also hanging by a thread, it looks likely that president Florentino Perez will take action after a season without a trophy. Casillas played well, but he must surely have grown fed up with relentless whistling from his own fans through recent months. Bale was probably Madrid's best attacker, but may again be held up as a scapegoat by local fans and pundits. Ronaldo scored his 10th Champions League goal of the season, making him joint top scorer with Barca's talisman Lionel Messi, but was little involved in open play.
Madrid's dream of becoming the first team to retain the Champions League in the modern era is over. Juventus are also now the first non-Spanish team to beat La Liga opposition over two legs in 13 ties in the competition. Both stats suggest this result will have big implications at the Bernabeu.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan