The big winners and losers as Real fend off Juve comeback to reach Champions League semis

The big winners and losers as Real fend off Juve comeback to reach Champions League semis

In a topsy turvy night of football, Real Madrid got hammered by Juventus until they were rescued by a stoppage time penalty to only lose 1-3.

That goal sends Madrid into the semi-finals 4-3 on aggregate, despite being thoroughly outplayed on the night by the Italian Champions. What did we learn?

Loser: Gianluigi Buffon

What a way to go out. Real Madrid got a soft penalty in the last minute and Buffon (and everyone else in yellow) absolutely lost their head and rushed the ref. Michael Oliver felt a bump in his back and then England’s boy referee absolutely lost his nerve and sent the great Gianluigi Buffon off. It was a spectacularly apt way for Buffon to bow out of the Champions League, really.

Let’s be straight here, Buffon has been terrible in the Champions League this season, especially in the knockout rounds. It looked like his European career was going to end in utter ignominy, not even with the spectacular nature. But against Madrid, his mentality was clear: “if I’m going down, I’m gonna go down swinging” (not literally though, much to Michael Oliver’s relief).

Buffon was immense in the Bernabeu, producing his finest performance of the season. Whatever Real Madrid threw at him, he was equal to. No longer was he hesitant and nervous, or easily panicked by rushing out at the feet of an attacker. No, tonight he was solid as a rock. He stood tall when he had to, palming the ball away when he had to. He collected crosses, dominated his areas and celebrated defensive interventions like goals.

Buffon’s diving save to palm away Isco’s deflected shot with 10 minutes left was magnificent, and he looked like he was heading to a penalty shootout before the red card. Some will try and brand this a disgraceful exit, but the red card saw Buffon go out in a way that will allow him to forever rage at the referee for denying him a moment that, in all honesty, wouldn’t have come. He wouldn’t have saved the penalty, he’s as bad at that as Cristiano is at scoring them.

Instead, he left the field after a superb display with his clean sheet intact, to a standing ovation from the Santiago Bernabeu, all while cursing at the referee. It was the kind of exit that Buffon, ever the macho man, would deem appropriately “manly.” Defiant to the last, raging against the dying of the light. Absolutely legendary stuff.

At least, that’s the story he’ll tell himself when he wakes up in the morning, and every day of the rest of his life. Anything to dull the pain.

Loser: Keylor Navas

The other goalkeeper, though. Oh dear. Keylor Navas didn’t have the best of nights and even though Real Madrid went through they betrayed a weakness at the back that very clearly emanated from the Costa Rican goalkeeper. On the second goal, Navas was slow to react and got beaten at his near-post and made Juve’s comeback real.

Navas made Juve’s comeback reality on the hour mark when he went to collect Douglas Costa’s bending cross and spilled the ball to the onrushing Blaise Matuidi, who then tucked the ball into the back of the net. Navas and his ridiculous haircut was lucky that Juve never really found a way to truly test him after that, because he surely would have floundered again.

Winner: Mario Mandzukic

Mario Mandzukic scored one of the greatest goals in Champions League history in the 2017 final. At the time it was an equaliser, but Juve ended up getting thrashed so it was largely forgotten. He wasn’t fit enough to start the first leg this year, and only appeared as a sub when the game was dead. But tonight he was set to start, tonight he would have his vengeance.

It took him less than 90 seconds to get on the scoresheet as he ghosted away from Dani Carvajal and guided a wonderful header into the back of the net. It was a thermonuclear start and immediately set the tone. Mandzukic and Carvajal spent the rest of the half beating each other up, each putting in dirty tackles on the other, each picking up a booking and looking like they’d get the other sent off.

Then as half-time was looming, Mandzukic struck again. Lichtsteiner sent a beauty of a cross arcing through the air and Mandzukic this time towered above Carvajal and thumped the ball into the back of the net past Keylor Navas’ near-post. In the end, just like in May, it counted for nothing as Madrid emerged victorious – but Mario Mandzukic once again proved himself to be a superb big match player.

Loser: Mehdhi Benatia

The Moroccan defender played magnificently for most of the match. He was intensely aggressive, sure, but he was an able partner for Giorgio Chiellini. He showed Juve just what they were missing in the first leg. His powerful frame and superb defensive instinct allowed him to block so many Madrid crosses and passes and get the ball out of harm’s way.

But he ruined it all in the last minute of the match when he left Lucas Vázquez unmarked in the middle of the box. How could he leave him alone like that? What was going through his mind? He knew Vázquez was all set to surely bury the ball past Buffon, so he did what he thought he had to do and bumped into him from behind. It was one of those tackles that so perfectly straddles the line between foul play and excellent defending, but when you’re away from home it always falls one way – doesn’t it?

The referee gave the penalty, Madrid scored the penalty, and Juve’s comeback went up in a puff of smoke. All because Medhi Benatia couldn’t keep tabs on a short winger.

Winner: Max Allegri

What a brilliant performance Juventus put in. A stupendous display of guts and fortitude. They identified a weakness in Real Madrid and exploited it repeatedly to pull off an impossible comeback. Max Allegri is often criticised by so many for not being enigmatic or brave enough, but without his side’s best player (the suspended Paulo Dybala) he sent Juve out in a bold formation and with a brave mentality.

They scored 74 seconds into the game, and kept on pushing forward. They showed no fear against the European Champions, they hammered them at home in the Champions League. When Allegri spotted the crossing weakness, he took De Sciglio off and brought Stephan Lichtsteiner onto the pitch – after just 16 minutes!

Allegri was brave and decisive and did pretty much everything anyone could have done to do the impossible and come back from 0-3 down. Sure, he ultimately lost, but Juve’s performance here will have proven a lot of his doubters wrong and likely brought him an extended stay as Juventus boss, provided he wants that.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

It had to be, didn’t it? Again and again, Cristiano Ronaldo scores in the Champions League. He didn’t even play well in the game, missing chances, skewing shots, and just looking ineffective. He was held well in check by the brilliant Giorgio Chiellini and Medhi Benatia. It looked like his goalscoring streak was about to be snapped in half, until the last minute.

Cristiano rose powerfully to head the ball back across goal, allowing Lucas Vázquez to win the penalty that he then stood up to take. Cristiano was made to wait for five minutes as Juventus did their level best to put him off. Did he lose his nerve? Did he heck. The Portuguese superstar stepped up and thundered a penalty into the top corner. 1-3. 15 goals this season (at least one in every game this season). 120 goals all-time. The records keep on piling up. Cristiano Ronaldo: Mr. Champions League.