Everything was going perfectly for Juventus. After losing the first leg of their Champions League tie against Real Madrid at home last week, today they went to Madrid and flipped the script, somehow scoring three unanswered goals an hour into the match. Just seconds away from dragging the match into extra time where they’d have a great opportunity to finish the job, everything fell apart.
Let’s start from the beginning. In order to orchestrate a big comeback like Juve looked to pull off, it really helps to score an early first goal. Mario Mandžukić gave Juventus just that with a big header at the very start of the match:
The goal buoyed Juventus’s spirits, but it didn’t seem to affect the famously tough-minded Madridistas much. The entire rest of the first half was wide open and both teams came tantalizingly close to scoring. A second goal did finally come in the 37th minute, once again off the head of Mandžukić:
Juventus kept pushing forward in numbers looking for that crucial third goal, getting the ball out wide to their wingers and full backs who were dominating their respective flanks, and Real kept finding lots of space through the center of the pitch on counters. Another goal felt destined, and sure enough Juve were the ones who got it thanks to an embarrassing Keylor Navas blunder:
From there the game got crazily tense. Juve probably had the better of the final half hour of play, but both teams were getting their chances. Towards the final minutes of normal time, the copious amounts of energy both teams had expended all day started to catch up to them and the players began to tire.
Which was fine for Juventus. They’d already done the bulk of the work. Keep calm, get the match into extra time, and from there The Old Lady could lay it all on the line for a fourth goal that would’ve all but guaranteed their progression into the semifinals. Even if Real had scored in extra time, the Italians would’ve still been in pretty good position since they’d still only be a goal away from winning the tie. All they had to do was get it to extra time.
Naturally, they couldn’t make it. With mere seconds of the three minutes of stoppage time remaining, Real Madrid, Juve defender Medhi Benatia, and the referee conspired to do this:
And, naturally, Cristiano Ronaldo did this:
Just an awful, agonizing, way to end what had been such a spectacular match. Benatia’s tackle on Lucas Vázquez was definitely a penalty. Ronaldo showed once again that he’s not human by stepping up in that huge moment and smashing in an absolutely perfect penalty, like a cyborg whose Emotion Replication Module was set firmly in the “serenity” range. Gigi Buffon should’ve kept his head and been there for his team to defend the spot kick instead of screaming his way into a sending off. (Though it’s incredibly harsh to red card Buffon for his understandable fury in such a heated moment in what—if he sticks to his announced plan to retire at the end of this season—will be the final Champions League match of his legendary career.) And yet for as correct a call as the penalty was and as coldly impressive as Ronaldo’s inhuman mental fortitude proved to be, to conclude the match like that feels cheap.
Real Madrid should probably be heavy favorites to go on to win their third Champions League final in a row now. If they do so, they’ll be the rare team who achieved an epochally amazing feat while never really looking like unforgettably dominant team their list of achievements will imply. This Juventus team isn’t close to being as talented as the ones of recent vintage have been, and because of that and that self-inflicted debacle at the end of today’s match, they couldn’t really claim they deserve to win the European Cup, either. Oh please, Lord, let Liverpool succeed where Juve failed and knock these bastards out before we have to sit through yet another shirtless Ronaldo trophy celebration.