Thursday 12 April 2018

Juventus Madrid Comeback Ends Abruptly

The return visit to the Santiago Bernabeu for Gonzalo Higuaín and Sami Khedira with Juventus on Wednesday night was close to being a lifelong sporting memory. The kind that becomes legendary with the passing of the years. Instead, the bitter sweet will remain and somewhat tarnished as the visitors saw their 3-goal comeback shattered by a 92-minute penalty given to Real Madrid. The final minutes of this second leg semi-final of the Champions League becoming an explosive mixture of on-field melees, the tragic dismissal of the iconic Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, and the euphoria erupting after the penalty was scored by Cristiano Ronaldo. 

And with the arguments still raging on the pitch, English referee, Michael Oliver blew for full time, leaving Real Madrid players in delirium on reaching the UEFA semi-final draw taking place on Friday. While Italian footballing aristocrats jetted home in the early morning hours empty handed - yet again - after another encounter with Real Madrid. With former Juventus player and current Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane, guiding his Madrid team to join the German Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich; the 2005 Champion League winners Liverpool, perhaps the surprise winners over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and Roma, the shock winners’ winners against Barcelona on Tuesday night, The Catalans arriving in Rome with a three-goal advantage that looked unassailable. But was dwindled away even with Lionel Messi lining out, to see them out of the tournament. 

Despite being most people’s favourites and with another La Liga title to be conferred in the days ahead, the pain of being vanquished by the little known former Italian international, Eusebio Di Francesco, at the helm of Roma will cause more unrest in Catalunya. His team also dismissing Shakthar Donetsk and Atletico Madrid on their way to the semi-final place. Winning - not by luck- but by an attacking game plan that exposed some of the long-known weaknesses and flaws in Barcelona’s central defence. 

For the second leg Juventus manager, Massimiliano Allegri started his team pressing very high on Real Madrid and within 90 seconds the visitor’s homework had unsettled the locals, conceding a goal in the first attack. Putting the proverbial cat amongst the Italian piccione very early on. Replicating a plan that knocked out Tottenham Hotspur in the return leg at Wembley Stadium in the previous round, Juve went about their business. Their hopes of progressing suddenly cut short just as extra time was looming after Medhi Benatia was adjudged to have fouled Lucas Vazquez in the six-yard box, after Cristiano Ronaldo headed back a long cross from Toni Kroos. Which found the young Spaniard’s feet – with only Buffon to beat,

The keeper then on hearing the referee’s whistle reacted with some unsporting scenes the Italian great exploding with some justifiable rage perhaps. But then manhandling referee Oliver who had no option but to show the red card according to the rulebook. Buffon’s dismissal further complicating things for Juventus as the home side were lining up for a penalty as their goalie headed for the tunnel Leaving the former Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczęsny to put on his gloves to take up his position between the posts and face Ronaldo. Who then drilled his 12-metre spot-kick into the top right corner to end the contest for Juventus. Albeit the arguing and protest continuing. Yet drowned out by a home crowd of over 80,000 who suddenly reignited after almost 60 minutes of silence. 

An unsavoury finish to a great quarter-final tie and a question mark as to whether Video Assistant Referees (VAR) would have made a difference to such a polemic finish. In the end for Higuaín and Khedira it was yet another departure from the Bernabeu pretty much the way they did as players. Unwanted by their manager of their day, Jose Mourinho, and somewhat unhappy. 

In addition, an appearance in the tunnel by the suspended Real Madrid captain, Sergio Ramos, could trigger further events as the defender was seen watching the end of the match almost pitch side. A point referee Oliver noted in his post-match report. Which could mean another suspension from UEFA should they find that he was in breach of the rules concerning suspended players being on the pitch. Xabi Alonso was handed a one-match ban for stepping on the field to celebrate with his team-mates after the 2014 Champions League final, and UEFA could take a similar view of Ramos' situation. Which Ramos missed on Wednesday due to accumulated yellow cards.

The Juve goalkeeper captain said after the game, that was expected to be his last in the Champions League: "It was a tenth of a penalty.

"I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point.” Buffon said, "The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation.

"Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a bag of rubbish. On top of that, if you don't have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, having your drink and eating crisps” Buffon continued, "You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could have told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating.

"If you can't handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps."

Massimiliano Allegri has claimed that Juventus deserved to take Real Madrid to extra time in Wednesday night's Champions League quarter-final second leg. In the first leg, Juan Cuadrado was not awarded a penalty in stoppage time, and Allegri mentioned that the incident in Spain would have a bearing on the tie. "I don't want to judge what the referee did. I feel bad for the lads, who did well in Turin for 60 minutes and didn't score the goals they did tonight," the Italian told the waiting press. 

"The penalty tonight was basically the reverse of what happened on Juan Cuadrado in the first leg... I said even at the time that incident would decide qualification. Allegri continued, "We deserved at least to go to extra time, as we had two substitutes left and they could give an important push in that extra half-hour with Real Madrid tiring.

"Either I had to make changes on the hour mark and go hell for leather, or I wait until extra time and have enough time to get the situation sorted out. We weren't even really at risk late on in the game."

The UEFA Champions League semi-final draw will be live on from 13:00CET on Friday.

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