Ronaldo's treble ensures Real Madrid top Wolfsburg, reach UCL last four
MADRID -- Three quick thoughts from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu as Real Madrid progress past Wolfsburg to the UEFA Champions League semifinals 3-2 on aggregate after Tuesday's game finished 3-0 to the hosts, with all three goals coming from Los Blancos talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
1. Three for Ronaldo and Madrid make the last four
A Ronaldo hat trick saw Real Madrid beat Wolfsburg 3-0 on the night and overcome their 2-0 first-leg deficit to make the Champions League semifinals at an eventually rocking Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.
Madrid's history of stirring "remontada" comebacks was mentioned a lot in the build-up, but this was more about Zinedine Zidane's side remaining solid and not taking too many chances, with Ronaldo's unerring eye for goal and some dodgy Wolfsburg defending doing the rest.
The atmosphere was cagey more than fearsome at kickoff, with the 76,684-strong crowd (not a sellout) apprehensive, and neither side looking to throw too many players forward. Visiting goalkeeper Diego Benaglio had not had a save to make before his defence opened in front of him, and Ronaldo accepted the gift to tap in from six yards for a 1-0 lead on the night.
Just 86 seconds later, the tie was all square on aggregate, with the defending again suspect as the Portuguese rose to head clinically and seemingly set Madrid on the way to an easy passage to the last four.
At 2-2 on aggregate, and still 73 minutes to play, the game changed. Madrid were back to playing extra-cautiously, looking to ensure they did not concede an away goal that would swing the tie back in Wolfsburg's favour. The German side had more of the ball, and Blancos goalkeeper Keylor Navas twice had to save from Luiz Gustavo and Bruno Henrique efforts. At half-time, the crowd was quiet, with the inevitability of a Madrid comeback gone for now.
The game remained tense as the second half went on, with Madrid still not really testing Benaglio. Gareth Bale was quiet, showing up to hurl a Rory Delap-style long throw into the area, which Wolfsburg dealt with comfortably. Ronaldo showed his frustration when he wanted to take a quick throw, but none of his teammates reacted.
Just as it seemed extra time was looming, Luka Modric drove forward and won a free kick 25 yards from the Wolfsburg goal. Ronaldo's radar from set pieces has not always functioned through recent years, but this time his effort flew through the wall to the net with Benaglio nowhere close.
The treble took Ronaldo up to 16 Champions League goals this season, just one off the record of 17 he set when Madrid won the trophy two years back. He will have the chance to break that mark now as his team go into a sixth straight Champions League semifinal.
2. Wolfsburg pay for naivety
Before the first leg, Wolfsburg defender Dante gave his side just a 2 percent chance of progressing, but by kickoff on Tuesday, the bookies had the German side as marginal favourites to progress given their superb first-leg showing.
The visitors did seem pretty calm through the opening stages, but their defending was not good for the opener. It was also noticeable how quickly they restarted the game after conceding, allowing the momentum inside the stadium to continue, and such naivety was punished within just 86 seconds by the clinical Ronaldo and his super-experienced teammates.
As the tie continued at 2-2, the visitors increasingly took their time over throw-ins and goal kicks, much to the Bernabeu's consternation. They were also showing more composure in possession, with Brazil international Gustavo outstanding. Navas was comfortable throughout in the Madrid goal, however, with his back four much better organised and protected by their midfield than in the first leg last week.
Considering they were playing in the knockout stages of the competition for the first time, Wolfsburg can be proud of how they stood up to the 10-time winners over the two legs. But they paid for their innocence on the night.
3. Carvajal call made sense
Of all the things that went wrong for Madrid, and Zidane, in the first leg last week, it was the selection of €30 million Danilo ahead of homegrown Dani Carvajal at right-back that really annoyed Blancos fans and pundits. The Brazilian was tormented throughout by Wolfsburg's best player, Julian Draxler, with both goals originating from the young German winning their personal battle.
There was no surprise when Zidane rectified that mistake with Carvajal starting on Tuesday, as he had done in the Clasico 10 days ago at the Camp Nou. The Spanish international was involved in both Madrid's early goals, first it was his cross that was deflected through a disorganised defence into Ronaldo's path for the opener.
Moments later the Madrid-born defender, who had spoken last weekend about Tuesday's game being "a war," again got forward down the right and provided a cross that Vieirinha just about cleared from within his own six-yard box. That led to the corner from Toni Kroos that Ronaldo deftly headed to the net for 2-0 on the night.
Carvajal had a shaky moment at the other end, taking out Draxler pretty clearly after being beaten down side of the box. But after the ex-Schalke schemer limped off to be replaced by Max Kruse, Madrid's No. 15 dealt pretty easily with the threat of Andre Schurrle. The former Chelsea man was also not too keen to track back, meaning the raiding right-back almost set up another goal for Madrid when the game was in the balance at 2-2 on aggregate.
Choosing Carvajal over Danilo was not the most difficult decision Zidane has had to make in his first 100 days as Madrid coach, but it was a decision he got right.
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