|photo by The U.S. Army||via PhotoRee|
Columnist Scott offers a final word or two on his second favorite team's late departure from the Champions League on Wednesday night:
This is farlieonfootie for April 27.As the goalies get better, advancing technology allows in-depth study of opposing players' tendencies, and rules have evolved allowing lateral ‘keeper movement prior to the kick, penalty kicks are far from the given goal we grew up believing. Even more difficult is conversion when the pressurized glare of a Champions League semi-final is blinding your eyes and threatening tachycardia.
Admittedly, I did not get to see the majority of the Real Madrid - Bayern Munich second leg game. But I did catch the last 20 minutes of extra time, during which I saw Real Madrid pressing relentlessly and creating the better of the chances, with only Gonzalo Higuain's slightly ill-timed touch wasting a near sure goal created by Marcelo's sublime 3/4-field dribble then pass. It should be noted, however, that my observation is notwithstanding a clearly unbiased impression to the contrary, of all the action prior, by a certain burly Bayern Munich fan in my acquaintance.
As a result, I'll leave the regular and extra time commentary to others and, instead, focus briefly on one of the most thrilling, if disheartening, penalty shootouts I've ever witnessed. All the elements were there: world class field players, world class goalies, Champions League Final on the line, dramatic saves, all hope lost, hope restored, crushing miss and, finally, emphatic closure.
Just before the expiration of extra time, Ronaldo is seen to confidently motion to himself, clearly an indication that he will take the first kick. So, after David Alaba scores first for Bayern, I watch with anticipation as one of the best players in the world, indeed the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year, will surely put Los Blancos on level terms. But Manuel Neuer is of another mind, getting down quickly to his right to block the Portuguese’s hard-hit but too-centered shot. Ronaldo had made 26 of 27 penalty kicks for Real Madrid before this effort. Confidence erodes to mere hope.
Mario Gomez then converts for Bayern, sending Iker Casillas the wrong way. Hope is now flickering.
Kaka, another FIFA World Player of the Year (2007), will surely get Madrid back on track. He hits hard and tight to the lower right corner, but Neuer guesses correctly again and makes a brilliant save. Hope is extinguished.
Casillas saves! A brilliant save down low to his left to keep out Toni Kroos’ well-struck shot to the corner. Hope is struggling to reignite.
Xabi Alonso scores right down the middle, the beneficiary of seeing Ronaldo and Kaka go first. Finally.
Casillas saves again! This time he almost over-dives Philipp Lahm’s strike to his right, but reaches back to keep out the attempt. Hope sparks back to life! After being down 0-2 after two kicks, who would have thought Real would have the chance to knot it at 2-2 after four kicks? But first, Sergio Ramos must convert…
The long-haired Spanish defender approaches the ball with speed…. and proceeds to do what every soccer coach tries to pummel out of their players – he leans back too much and catches too much of the bottom of the ball, skying his wasted effort over the goal. With hope feebly flickering again, the weight on Casillas’ shoulders is greater than ever.
But if there was a weight on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shoulders, he shrugged it off before calmly firing down the middle past the diving Spaniard.
So it will be the Germans who will march to the Champions League Final, in their home stadium, against a resurgent Chelsea side. Real Madrid has been defeated in the semi-final for the second consecutive year. Jose Mourinho has said he will stay. There is more work to be done. And it begins with wrapping up La Liga title.