Thursday, May 2, 2013

Late goals not good enough for Real Madrid

MADRID, May 2, 2013

Borussia Dortmund are on their way to Wembley but only just. Jurgen Klopp's side rode out an opening storm and a late, late siege to reach the final on May 25.

Just when it appeared that their passage would prove a comfortable one, two goals in the final eight minutes, first from Karim Benzema and then from Sergio Ramos, left them hanging on.

"I thought if God wills it, we'll go to the final; if he doesn't, we won't," Klopp said of the final heart-stopping minutes.

In the end they made it. A 2-0 defeat, Dortmund's first in four matches against Madrid, was not enough to deny them a trip to London that Klopp said was "absolutely deserved". He had a point: Dortmund appeared to be cruising to the finish line while Madrid limped behind them.

Gonzalo Higuaín, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil all missed clear opportunities in a breathless start as Madrid looked to overcome the 4-1 deficit from the first leg. But the momentum was lost and the game appeared to be drifting to a close until Benzema's goal set up a dramatic finish.

Intense start

The start had been intense, too. Jose Mourinho had talked about going "goal by goal and minute by minute" but the fans wanted an early strike and the comeback legend embraced by this club speaks of the need to make the first corner, first foul and first shot all Madrid's.

They therefore came racing out; the first corner came before the opening minute had ended and the stage was set: within seven minutes Madrid had taken four corners; three minutes earlier they should have taken the lead. Modric and Ozil combined to put Higuaín one on one with Roman Weidenfeller, but his shot was blocked.

A chest control and close-range volley for each side in less than a minute followed — the first fell to Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski, the second to Ronaldo — and soon Ozil had the game's best chance so far, only to pull wide when clean through. The match was not even a quarter of an hour old and Madrid had already created sufficient opportunities to believe that a comeback was possible.

Dortmund, though, had ridden out the storm. Slowly they settled down and took control, drawing the sting, and Klopp later praised their "cool" in a "game that was crazy from the start".

Ronaldo's free-kick was the last opportunity Madrid got in a first half that fizzled out, and it sailed high into the stands.

If the plan had been a goal every half an hour, then they now needed three in 45 minutes. What no one anticipated was that they would be so close to getting three in eight. After all, there was something flat about Madrid now, even when they did attack.

Lewandowski misses two

Dortmund could have ended it at the start of the second half but Lewandowski wasted two chances in as many minutes. First he fired over after Kevin Grosskreutz expertly turned the ball into his path; then Marko Reus rolled a pass into him on the other side of the area. Faced with Diego López, he put his head down and hit the ball as hard as he could. It screeched past the keeper and thumped back off the underside of the bar.

The game's best opportunity also went the way of the Germans, when Reus pulled back for Ilkay Gundogan five yards out but Lopez scrambled across his line to make an astonishing save.

Madrid needed three goals but Dortmund, calm when they won the ball back, smooth in playing their way out and into the space that opened before them, looked more likely to get one.

Or so it seemed until, with only eight minutes remaining, Ozil finally escaped down the right. He pulled the ball back into the six-yard box, where Benzema was waiting to side-foot home.

Suddenly there was a roar that became a bugle call for the charge. Chants once more began: "Yes, we can!" And for the first time in an hour the team believed they could, too.

The noise was back and so was the siege, the ball thrown into the area, bodies flying. Benzema cut inside and his deflected shot was pushed over.

Then Raphael Varane's effort was blocked. And, when the ball dropped to Benzema near the right-hand byline moments later, he coolly pulled it back for Sergio Ramos, who smashed it into the roof of the net.

It was the 89th minute and now they needed only one. Bender went down injured; when he got up, the board went up. Madrid had five minutes left to pull off a miracle.

When they won their next corner, the goalkeeper went up. Instead it was Ramos who reached the delivery, his header drifting wide. When Dortmund got the ball back, they too threw men forward. Hearts were in mouths until the referee, Howard Webb, put the whistle to his.

"I have never been to Wembley, although I have watched Wimbledon," Klopp said afterwards beaming. "It will be one of the greatest moments in our life. But we do not want to go there to be tourists. We want to be the winner of this cup. We will see what happens but this is just so great." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013
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