After the spectacle of Manchester City v Liverpool and the shock of Barcelona losing a three-goal lead against unlikely Roma, few expected Real Madrid defending a 3-0 lead at home would be anything more than a fairly dull match. We were wrong.
The pre-match favourites Real Madrid went through as predicted, but not in the way we expected.
Real Madrid, who had lost only one of their last 40 Champions League matches at home, went behind after only 76 seconds when Juventus striker Mandzukic met Sami Khedira’s cross to head in the opener, giving Juve’s travelling fans something to cheer about. The Croatia striker headed home his second goal in the 37th minute when substitute Stephan Lichtsteiner provided the cross from the right, sending fans into raptures. Although Real Madrid’s defender Raphael Varane headed a free-kick against the bar just before half-time, the home side didn’t look convincing and were riding their luck. In the 61st minute Madrid looked to be on the verge of an improbable and sensational exit after Matuidi scored a third for Juventus.
The game looked to be heading for extra time, with Juventus the clear favourites, when Juventus defender Benatia treated Lucas Vazquez to something between a clumsy tackle and a push in the back, bundling the Madrid player onto the floor just a few feet from the Juventus goal. The resultant penalty award turned the Juventus players into an almost hysterical mob, with goalkeeper Buffon leading the protests.
The referee was never likely to change his mind about the penalty, but Buffon had totally lost the plot and his red card was always inevitable.
Equally inevitable was Cristiano Ronaldo stepping up to take responsibility, and the credit, for the penalty kick. Cometh the hour, cometh the puffed up chest and impeccably taken kick. After booking Ronaldo for the equally inevitable bare-chested celebration, English referee Michael Oliver blew the final whistle of the night and Madrid had scraped into the semi-finals.
For those of us watching on TV, the night was over, but that wasn’t the case in Madrid. Italian protests and indignation didn’t stop at the final whistle, following both teams down the tunnel and into the post-match interviews.
And really, that’s the great shame of the night. Instead of talking about how Juventus came so close to overturning a 3-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, all we really heard were insults thrown at the referee, suggestions of anti-italian conspiracy theories and some pretty bizarre accusations from Buffon.
Going back to Ronaldo, after a quiet start to the season which led many to ask if his bubble had burst, the man has now scored in 11 games in a row for Real, scored 27 goals in his past 14 games for club and country and has now scored 120 goals in the Champions League.
Going back to Buffon, the man’s almost rabid response to what most agree was a fair penalty guaranteed that we would never know if he would have saved the penalty or not. Buffon seemed not to notice it, but the fans at the Bernabéu gave him a standing ovation as he walked off pitch after getting his red card. Buffon certainly had a spectacular send-off in what will be his last Champions League match, but not the kind fans would have liked.