What a turnaround!  Not Manchester City but Real Madrid play the Champions League final after Benzema's goal in extensions

Ludo Vandewalle in Madrid

Isn’t this Real Madrid campaign more beautiful than some of those thirteen previous victories? As the Spanish national champion comes back from a lost position every time, it only happens in fairy tales. Against PSG after a 0-1 deficit, against Chelsea after a 0-3 deficit and now against City again. It may not be all refined as far as the Royal is concerned, but its incomparable self-sacrifice and courage engender sympathy. An example for everyone.

Nobody could have noticed anything in the final place for Manchester City. Last week every football fan sat on the edge of their seats, licking thumbs and fingers at the same time as the 4-3 perfectly reflected the entertainment value of the game. Now it was especially exciting. 73 minutes long. Until Mahrez launched that rocket past Courtois. we thought. Real Madrid rose from the dead so many times, but now it wouldn’t be possible, would it? Too dependent on Benzema, that reason for the imminent elimination could be dreamed of. We could conclude that the place in the final for City was deserved. Especially based on the first leg.

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old fox

That old fox Carlo Ancelotti, however, decided otherwise. Immediately after the 0-1, the Real coach pulled Kroos to the side for Rodrygo. You don’t know him? Not your fault. Didn’t break many pots yet. It is a 21-year-old Brazilian for whom Real Madrid paid 45 million euros in 2019. At Club Brugge he was allowed to participate in 90 minutes in his first season and scored one goal in the 0-5 victory. Also this season he has not been much of a basic player, but mainly a substitute in the final phase. However, it is this raid that he will never forget. He scored twice in stoppage time for Real Madrid to force extensions in an unlikely manner. In that, Benzema hit the mark. Matter of habit. From the penalty spot and without Panenka this time. Neatly in the corner after a feint. Manchester City tried but met Courtois.

Of course, this campaign will go down in history as Karim Benzema’s. Justly. But Courtois also has his share. Just think of the PSG game where he saved Madrid from disaster and even saved a penalty from Messi. Purists will say that Mahrez’s goal should never go in because it was in the short corner. However, that shot was so hard that even with a Courtois in the short corner the leather had flown in. No, Courtois should especially pat himself on the back. He was also excellent at the case against City. The first time when Bernardo Silva, City’s best player in the first half, suddenly appeared in front of him and had to parry with his fists. The second time on a low shot from Foden that he neatly got out of the corner. Grealish also put him to the test in the final phase. In overtime he whipped a header out of his goal. The other ice bunny across the street, Ederson, needed fewer of those saves than our compatriot.

Real Madrid crawled through the eye of the needle to the final. Brought on by a surprisingly fanatical and boisterous crowd – clearly not yet saturated despite 13 Champions League titles on the honors list and crazier than ever after the game – they put pressure at times even when City’s defense had possession of the ball. It gave Benzema two opportunities in the first fifteen minutes. Well, possibilities. Two attempts on goal, but if Benzema heads or kicks to goal, we quickly see an opportunity for a goal these days. For the rest, Benzema remained in the shadows. Until he had to convert that decisive penalty. Every time he touched the ball, there was a shudder through the stadium. His status is now unmatchable. After more than half an hour, Benzema got the ball where no man likes it and went to the ground. All Madrid fans in Bernabeu, so noisy, held their breath. That man has built up a status in a short time that can hardly be broken. His work force makes the Real fans hallucinate.

Vinicius Jr.

The danger seemed to come mainly from Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian is a scourge for any defender with his speed. City, however, was allowed to kiss both hands that it could recover Walker. Vinicius Jr escaped midway through the first half and there is only one defender in Europe who can get him back then: Walker. So he did. No coincidence that City had a hard time after Walker’s resignation. Vinicius Jr. is a wonderful player and Eden Hazard will have to seriously wipe his toes if he is ever to be kicked out of the squad. In the beginning of the second half, he wasted the biggest chance for Madrid until then.

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Another Madrid to be mentioned? As again more that is Luka Modric. His talent is beyond suspicion but his work ethic deserves a separate mention. In the first half, he personally went to get De Bruyne back in his own half when he threatened to escape. He is without a doubt forgiven for not being able to complete the 120 minutes.

Poor De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne sees his second CL final in a row through the nose. He doesn’t get the chance to play away his bad luck from last year – eye socket fracture. Our compatriot had just been sidelined by City coach Pep Guardiola when Mahrez, cleared by the best City player Bernardo Silva, scored the 0-1. He floored Courtois with an improbably hard shot into the short corner. Mahrez is an incredibly sophisticated footballer. Symbol for a City that, however, had to put on the work clothes. We are a bit sad that great football players such as Mahrez, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Foden do not make it to the final. The craft of Real Madrid, the cunning, the courage,… it has proved decisive.

De Bruyne was not top-top. He was the first to fire a shot on goal on behalf of City after fifteen minutes. He ran out of breath and lost the ball a few times on De Bruynes. But as far as we’re concerned, his return still remains above average. We also mean for Guardiola because he got a big hug from the City coach. After the break, he sprinkled a tight stride in Foden’s walking line, one that immediately reminded us of Iñiesta. The Spaniard is De Bruyne’s predecessor as a passer without many equals. But leaving his mark this time was not one of them. Still, he was missed when City entered the boat.

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