It took one hundred and seventy seven minutes to separate great rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, but Javier Hernandez's 87th minute winner sent the European champions through to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
At the eighth attempt this season, Carlo Ancelotti’s side finally overcame Diego Simeone’s depleted charges with a dramatic finish at a packed Bernabeu to win 1-0 on aggregate.
The drama started a week ago in a goalless first leg and reignited as Madrid appealed for fans to greet their team’s arrival before kick-off. Thousands answered the plea, filling a six-lane boulevard and meeting the coach in a fog of fervour, flags and fireworks. Atleti’s bus sneaked in quietly on the other side of football’s finest stadium.
Lesser teams would be intimidated by the grandeur of the Bernabeu, serenaded by Placido Domingo’s Hala Madrid anthem.
Not Simeone’s side. They knew they’d be under immediate pressure and were ready for it as Madrid started as they’d done a week ago, albeit without the clear chance presented to Gareth Bale in the Calderon.
Atletico rolled with the punches, with every player giving one for all and all for one. Arda Turan, nominally a winger, was found blocking shots from Cristiano Ronaldo in the centre, Juanfran clearing balls in his own box.
Hernandez, playing for the absent Karim Benzema, shot into the side netting to Ronaldo’s frustration after 11 minutes. Madrid’s talisman should’ve done better himself two minutes later, but skewed a shot wide before Atleti settled. James Rodriguez’s 26th minute free-kick fizzed over after Ronaldo had been fouled.
Sergio Ramos, the hero of Lisbon, was a surprise midfield choice for a team reeling from injuries to Gareth Bale, Benzema, Luka Modric and Marcelo.
Ramos over hit a pass which led to Jesus Gamez testing Iker Casillas from 25 yards after 28 minutes, but it was a rare Atletico foray as Hernandez headed over after 30 minutes to keep up the pressure. James urged the 80,000 crowd for more support and the Colombian had a shot of his own two minutes later to test Jan Oblak. The Slovenian goalkeeper, man of the match in the first leg, looked equally assured as he collected a James free-kick seven minutes from the break and a Ronaldo shot at the end of a goalless first period.
Chicharito, on loan from Manchester United and suffering from a lack of minutes and goals this season, continued to be the main threat, shooting wide after 48 minutes and trying to head a cross on 54 minutes before being hit by Miranda. The referee ignored the not unreasonable penalty appeals. Ramos headed at Oblak on 62, yet knowing that an Atleti away goal would mean almost certain elimination for their side, nerves grew in the stands. Heads went into heads as Koke headed straight at Casillas following a Ronaldo shot from distance at the other end. It was engrossing, but it was Atletico who’d come out of the enmity worse.
Raul Garcia and Pepe were booked for a 74th minute skirmish, before events got uglier two minutes later when the petulant Turan was dismissed for a second yellow card following a late tackle on Ramos. The Turk took two minutes to leave the field; Ramos turned his back to the stands and urged the fans to up the noise. The sending off gave them encouragement, but what Atletico lacked on the pitch, they gained from another man on the sidelines as Simeone cajoled his troops as Madrid pushed forward. Atletico looked like they’d hold out for extra-time before Ronaldo selflessly passed to Hernandez to side-foot in a winner for his best moment so far in a Madrid shirt. Atletico were distraught, Madrid are a step closer to becoming the first team since Milan in 1990 to retain the European Cup.
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