Ronaldo reaches 100 European goals as Madrid fight back to beat Bayern
MUNICH, Germany -- Three thoughts from Real Madrid's 2-1 first-leg victory over Bayern Munich on Wednesday at the Allianz Arena in the Champions League, as Cristiano Ronaldo becomes the first player to score 100 goals in European competition with his second-half brace.
1. Ronaldo brace boosts Madrid
The old cliché used to be "never write off the Germans," but perhaps it should now be "never write off Ronaldo." The Portugal genius might not quite be the player he once was, but he's still more than good enough to win a crucial Champions League game against arguably the best team on the continent.
Ronaldo scored both goals after Real Madrid fell behind 1-0, leading Madrid to a 2-1 win against Bayern in their Champions League quarterfinal first leg. Bayern had been the better side in the first half and should have added at least one more to Arturo Vidal's opener, but a brilliant showing after the break by Real, combined with a red card for Bayern's Javi Martinez, means the tie is tilted in the La Liga club's favour.
The first 25 minutes saw both teams carve out chances; at one end Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer was forced to tip Karim Benzema's header onto the bar, and at the other a goal-bound half-volley by Bayern's Franck Ribery was blocked before it could reach the top corner. Then Bayern took the lead, and in avoidable circumstances from Real's point of view. Vidal rose in the area, freer than he should have been, and powered a header toward goal and straight above the head of Madrid keeper Keylor Navas, who seemed to react late to the effort but nonetheless got two hands to it. Still, he couldn't prevent the ball from going into the roof of the net.
Bayern continued to be the better team, with Real limited to the occasional brief counterattack. Arjen Robben and Ribery pinched Madrid's defence from either side like an oppressive vice, while Thiago Alcantara played the role of buzzing conductor.
And the home side should have doubled their lead just before the break. Ribery shifted the ball from left foot to right, hit a shot that was blocked, and after a moment's pause the referee decided it had been stopped in the box by the arm of Madrid defender Dani Carvajal. The decision looked harsh (and Nacho was booked for his enthusiastic protest), but for Real, there was something approaching justice: Vidal stepped up and blasted the penalty kick way over the bar. Somewhere in northern England, Chris Waddle nodded ruefully.
Bayern regretted that miss two minutes after the break. Carvajal darted down the right, crossed to the edge of the six-yard box, and though the ball reached Ronaldo at an awkward angle, slightly lower than knee height, the striker managed to contort his body and turn it home. His legs don't move as quickly as his head wants them to these days, but Ronaldo's finishing is still supreme.
From there, Real looked more threatening, and they were given an even bigger advantage on the hour mark, as Martinez was sent off for two bookings in the space of about five minutes.
Real were truly on top then, and Benzema went close twice in the space of two minutes, the first a free header falling backward from about six yards out, the second a stabbed shot from a counterattack after Robben had given the ball away. Neuer had to make a remarkable save to deny Ronaldo, but shortly afterward he conceded the winner.
Substitute Marco Asensio crossed and Ronaldo struck straight at the goalkeeper, but it somehow escaped his grasp and trickled through his legs. Real deserved to be ahead and win, but the circumstances were cruel for Bayern.
2. Zidane gets the better of Ancelotti
They're pretty good friends, Bayern's Carlo Ancelotti and Madrid's Zinedine Zidane. How could they not be? They worked together at Juventus when Zidane was a player and, of course, at Real when Zidane was Ancelotti's assistant.
Both of those times Zidane was the apprentice, but on this occasion the master was bested.
"I know him very well and he knows me very well, but that doesn't mean anything," Zidane said before the match. "It's not a disadvantage or an advantage. There's a game tomorrow and I think that it's two very good teams coming up against each other, and that's it. We're not playing against Carlo.
"I learned many, many things [from Ancelotti]. But as you know, I'm not going to tell you what I learned with him. But it was many things."
Maybe one of those things was how and when to make an effective tactical change. The game didn't quite hinge on Real switching to a 4-4-2 -- the system Zidane seems to favour but doesn't always play in deference to fitting Gareth Bale into the lineup -- because they were already starting to assert their dominance before the change was made. But it certainly helped press that dominance home, with the obvious caveat of Bayern being reduced to 10 men.
In the end, Real might have been slightly irked that they didn't win by more -- indeed, they had two goals disallowed. But on this occasion, at least, the apprentice outthought the master.
3. Neuer bright for most of the night
You wonder why anyone would ever want to be a goalkeeper. When even the very best can easily have moments that make them look like amateurs, what's the point? Where's the glory? Success for a keeper is status quo -- for the most part, preventing things from happening rather than making them happen.
The nature of goalkeeping is such that mistakes are magnified: The same level of error by a left-back could be ignored, but a goalkeeper doesn't have that luxury. If David Alaba lets the ball go through his legs, he might concede a throw-in. When Neuer does it, he concedes a goal.
Neuer is, by common consensus, the best goalkeeper in the world. Gianluigi Buffon might have a word or two about that, but the giant Germany international is frequently colossal in more ways than one. And for most of Wednesday night, he proved just that, making several outstanding saves to keep Bayern in the game as Real's domination grew in the second half.
One of those stops, after about 75 minutes, was near miraculous. Ronaldo shot from inside the area with power, to Neuer's right when he was moving to his left, but the keeper stuck out one of those arms that resemble a Californian redwood and somehow kept it out. It wasn't a fluke, either. Neuer saved it with the palm of his hand, the goalkeeping equivalent of a striker perfectly timing a shot with his laces.
But two minutes later, calamity for Bayern: Ronaldo's solid but not spectacular header squirted through Neuer's grasp and legs and into the net. The mood swings of football's loneliest position, in a brutal couple of minutes. You wonder why anyone would want to be a goalkeeper.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.