Champions League takeaways: Valiant Juve falls short vs. Real Madrid

Cristiano-Ronaldo

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is tackled by Juventus' Medhi Benatia. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

• Real Madrid 1 (Ronaldo 90’+8’), Juventus 3 (Mandzukic 2’, 37’, Matuidi 61’)

GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

A penalty decision deep into injury time allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to dramatically rescue Real Madrid and send them through to the UEFA Champions League semifinals after Juventus mounted an incredible comeback in one of the most memorable matches in tournament history.

MAIN TALKING POINTS

1. Brilliant effort by Juventus
Nobody gave Juventus much of a chance headed into Wednesday’s tilt. After suffering a 3-0 loss in last week’s opener in Turin, the Serie A champions had to score four goals in order to move on to the next round – and they had to do it at the Santiago Bernabeu, of all places, against an in-form Ronaldo.

Perhaps taking inspiration from AS Roma’s miracle comeback against Barcelona, the bianconeri played the game of their lives, wrestling control away from the hosts early on when Mario Mandzukic scored on a glorious header after forcing a turnover. The Croatian netted a second goal just before halftime, and Blaise Matuidi added a third on the hour mark. Real Madrid’s worst nightmare was taking place right before their eyes and their fans.

Juventus was full value for its lead. The Italians perfectly managed the game, negating Ronaldo’s influence and received epic performances from defenders Medhi Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini. Visiting teams simply don’t score three goals against Real Madrid, but as the game progressed, Juventus inched ever so close to becoming only the fourth team to overturn a first-leg deficit of three or more goals.

In the end, though, the Italians fell heartbreakingly short. A late penalty call paved the way for Ronaldo’s heroics, and Real unashamedly escaped to fight another day, despite being outplayed, out-fought and out-thought. In the end, it was beyond cruel for it to end like this for Juventus, but the Serie A champions can hold their heads high, confident in the fact that they were the better side on the day and pushed the reigning, two-time European champions to the very brink of elimination.

“It was a really tough match and it’s a lesson that football doesn’t gift you anything. You need to fight to the end. Today we could have scored a couple, but Buffon and the rest of the Juventus side played well,” Ronaldo conceded in a post-match interview with Spanish TV.

2. It was a penalty
Juventus was 30 seconds away from forcing extra time when the unthinkable happened. Deep inside the penalty area, Medhi Benatia shoved Real Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez from behind as the ball safely landed in goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s hands. English referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot, and the rest was history.

Did Oliver make the right call? He did. No doubt that Vazquez sold it, and that the Spaniard went down far too easily. But it was a clumsy challenge by Benatia, who walked a fine line between brilliant and overzealous throughout the night. It finally caught up to the Moroccan, as he gave Real a life line which they duly made expert use of, sending the Bernabeu faithful into a state of delirium after Ronaldo’s penalty sailed into the net.

Maybe Oliver should have swallowed his whistle and not made the call at such a late juncture, thus allowing the two sides to decide this epic contest in extra time. But the Englishman appeared to have a clear view, and to his credit, he previously displayed great leniency in not giving Benatia a second yellow card that would have reduced Juventus to 10 men.

KEY MOMENT

90’+3’ PENALTY DECISION! Real Madrid 1, Juventus 3: Extra time loomed when Real Madrid pressed forward, with Ronaldo heading a pass towards Vázquez who was shoved from behind by Benatia. Oliver pointed to the spot, sending Gianluigi Buffon into a rage. The legendary Juve goalkeeper was shown a red card, and backup Wojciech Szczęsny had to come in to stare down Ronaldo. The Portuguese star made no mistake, hammering his penalty attempt past the helpless Polish goalkeeper, and scoring the goal that sent Real through 4-3 on aggregate.

BURNING QUESTION

QUICK TAKE

If this is indeed Buffon’s final Champions League match, then it’s a genuine shame it ended on such a sour note. The 40-year-old goalkeeper turned back the clock on Wednesday night, making a number of key saves to thwart Real Madrid and keep Juventus in the match. Soccer can be cruel, and it’s beyond cruel that the one thing missing from the Italian’s resume is a Champions League winner’s medal. Buffon has been a loyal servant to Juventus ever since joining the Turin outfit in 2001 from Parma, while at the same time establishing himself as one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the sport. A gentleman both on and off the field.

INTERESTING STAT

MAN OF THE MATCH

Mario Mandzukic, Juventus: Without Paulo Dybala, it was up to the Croatian to serve as the reference point, which he did with aplomb. Not only did he score two goals and effectively hold up the play, he also acted as the first line of defence, harrying Real Madrid’s defenders as they tried to play the ball out from the back.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.