Mario Mandzukic, Blaise Matuidi 8/10, bring Juve to brink against Real Madrid
There are no words. In what would have been one of the greatest comebacks in European football, Juventus and their three goals weren't enough to merit extra time as referee Michael Oliver called for a penalty in the last minute of stoppage time to incite fury.
Juventus scored their first goal in the first two minutes of the second leg against Real Madrid to make the tie interesting. Without Sergio Ramos, Los Blancos were vulnerable against crosses and lacked the organisation they usually have. Mario Mandzukic immediately exploited the vulnerabilities and jumped to head in the opening goal.
No celebrations. Juve thought only of scoring again. Confident and in control, they dominated a match in which Real Madrid looked like they were barely trying. Without the character of Ramos urging the team on and with no fluidity going forward, the home side struggled.
Another cross and another goal for Mandzukic before half-time, and then Blaise Matuidi capitalised on an error at the back to secure the third on the hour mark. Juventus were cruising toward extra time and still had substitutions to make. That is until it appeared Medhi Benatia fouled Lucas Vazquez and the referee awarded Real a penalty and the chance to score the winning goal. Cue Gianluigi Buffon's hysterical reaction and Italian heartbreak. Cristiano Ronaldo converted to dump Juve out of the Champions League.
Juventus outplayed the opponent on the night. They showed pride, balance, strength and intelligence as they exposed Real Madrid's weakness and worked as one to push them back and take control of the game. After three impressive goals, they nearly managed the perfect comeback story, one they thoroughly merited on the night on account of their attacking play.
Buffon may have not behaved like a legend, but he is a mere mortal who witnessed what he perceived to be a great injustice. Having played his last Champions League match and to be sent off in that manner will haunt him and his many devoted followers. He deserved more. Juventus deserved more, and to paraphrase Gary Lineker, Buffon's sending off was akin to shooting Bambi.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Massimiliano Allegri did everything to take Juventus back to equal terms by motivating the side while still ensuring control and composure. His team played beautifully, intelligently exploiting the weaknesses of their opponent while scoring the goals they needed to take them to extra time. Sadly, Allegri wasn't offered the extra 30 minutes to try to win the contest and show what he had prepared.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK, Gianluigi Buffon, 7 -- Capitano, tonight we saw the competitive rage we missed. A tremendous performance as he blocked Isco and kept Ronaldo at bay. The legend lost control after the penalty decision, but most in his place may well have reacted in similar fashion.
DF Mattia De Sciglio, N/R -- Good while on the pitch, blocking and reading situations well, but suffered an early injury and was replaced by Stephan Lichtsteiner.
DF Medhi Benatia, 6 -- Did he concede the world's stupidest penalty? Was it even a penalty? It's a shame the controversial incident occurred, as prior to that end, the defender was immensely brave and close to perfect as he read situations and defended with authority and character to block Real Madrid. The ending just ruined it all.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 7 -- A warrior tonight for his bravery in blocking shots and tackling the opponent. He simply refused to grant Real Madrid any chances. Battled with ambition and strength.
DF Alex Sandro, 6 -- Silly fouls, conceded possession cheaply, failed to capitalise on the space he was afforded. However, he also combined well and fought hard to ensure a team performance.
MF Sami Khedira, 7 -- My, my, my -- what an intellectual and strong performance. Controlled the midfield, recovered possession, delivered the assist and exploited all the right gaps. Masterful.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 7 -- Finally a worthy performance considering his talent. Tonight the player was indeed brave and fought for his right to show off his vision and passing ability. Dictated the tempo.
MF Blaise Matuidi, 8 -- And this blog wasn't sure his talents were required tonight. Wrong, as the Frenchman was one of the best players on the pitch. He fought, he delivered precision in both phases of the game, he capitalised on errors, he scored and he left it all on the pitch. His performance deserved more than an exit. Chapeau. Never to be doubted again.
FW Douglas Costa, 8 -- The example of excellence, he made Juve proud. Proved terrifying when running at players, proved courageous as he took players on and used his speed to push Real Madrid's lines back and securing control. Overwhelmed Marcelo, delivered precise crosses and kept Juve pushing forward. More please.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 7 -- One of the most devoted players on the pitch, defending from the front he fought for the team. Played like a leader, guiding his men to a near-perfect victory over his former side.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 8 -- For a striker who failed miserably against Benevento, he really knows how to impose himself in the big matches. He's won the competition before and knew how to play with composure and strength to score twice and punish Real Madrid's weaknesses in defending crosses.
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 7 -- Always a man to rely on. Came on and delivered the assist for Mandzukic's second goal. Played with ambition and courage as he combined with Costa and pushed Juve forward.
GK Wojciech Szczesny, N/R -- Guessed right but what could he do against a perfect penalty by Ronaldo?
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.