Every team has its kryptonite, and for Real Madrid, it’s rival club Atletico Madrid. Since dismantling Atletico 4-1 to win the 2014 UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier interleague tournament, last May, Real had yet to win against its crosstown counterpart in six matches prior to Tuesday.
True to form, Real failed to win Tuesday’s match as the game ended deadlocked at 0-0. Granted, superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo and company avoided a loss, but the team blew a chance to gain a definite advantage before two teams’ April 20 rematch.
In the Champions League tournament, winners are determined based on the aggregate score over the course of two games, with the tiebreaker awarded to the team that scored the most goals as the away team.
Given that Real was the away team Tuesday, it appears that it has surrendered any advantage it may have had going into the second leg. Now, Real must avoid a loss if it hopes to advance.
Still, with Ronaldo on the pitch, as well as forwards Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema, and midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, Real’s odds to advance look good.
However, there are some concerns as to whether Real’s prolific offense can penetrate the overwhelming Atletico defense that includes Miranda, Diego Godin and goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who performed extraordinarily well in Tuesday’s match, making a string of spectacular saves against world-class attackers. One such save came in the third minute when Bale broke free for what was Real’s best shot on goal, but Oblak saved it.
Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas and the rest of the defense, anchored by superstar defender Sergio Ramos, performed well against Atletico’s attack. Star Atletico forward Mario Mandzukic took an elbow to the face from Real defender Sergio Ramos, and though it appeared inadvertent, the elbow drew blood and raised tension between the two rivals as they battled evenly for the rest of the match.
Atletico once again slowed down Ronaldo, with his only scoring opportunity coming in the form of an errant 30-yard free kick.
Despite the lack of advantage on away goals for Real, Head Coach Carlo Ancelotti was proud of the way his team played for at least one half of the game and hopes to replicate those 45 minutes for the whole 90 on April 20. Real remains optimistic, as the second and deciding leg will be played in front of some of its most vivacious supporters.
Ronaldo and the rest of the Real squad must find a way to break through Atletico’s elite defense if they hope to advance to the semifinals, which would be their third appearance in the semifinals of the Champions League in as many years. It is without question that Real has dominated teams this year, but it is also without question that its attack sets the tone for any sort of victory.
Oblak was playing on a level beyond world class Tuesday, so there are no guarantees that he can replicate that performance, especially on Real’s home turf. Atletico may have bested Real in four matches this season and drew against them in three, but there would be no sweeter revenge than knocking its rivals out of the tournament, just as it did one year ago.
For Real, a legacy of absolute dominance is at stake, and many fans of the sport around the world would love to see Ronaldo not just advance to another semifinal but also have the chance to break FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi’s record of 75 goals in the Champions League.
The eyes of soccer fans around the world will be watching to see what next week has in store. Given the unlikelihood of Atletico being on the cusp of a semifinal berth after losing star forward Diego Costa to a hamstring injury, and eventually to Chelsea F.C., anything can happen.
Paolo Santamaria is a freshman in the College. SAXA SYNERGY appears every Friday.
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