Real Madrid 3 Schalke 4 (Aggregate score 5-4)
The unthinkable almost happened at the Bernabeu last night, as Real Madrid staggered their way into the last-eight of this year's Champions League competition, despite losing 4-3 at home to German side Schalke. Indeed, but for some frantic goalkeeping by Iker Casillas near the end, they may have suffered the ignominy of going out of the competition in their own backyard. One more away goal was all that the visitors required in those dying minutes, with Cristian Ronaldo and co seemingly unable to simply 'shut up shop' or as Jose Mourinho might have expressed it to 'park the bus'.
Ronaldo's stoic image on the half-way line at the end summed the emotions up perfectly, as he no doubt wondered quite what had just happened, with the home crowd boos possibly echoing his own (personal) thoughts. This was supposed to be an affirmation of the reigning champions' passage into the next round, a relaxed affair after their 2-0 away win at Schalke in the first leg. Sometimes though, #Football is not as predictable as we might think, it is a 'funny old game' after all on occasions.
The Germans didn't seem to have the read the script last night, as they attacked with vigour, scored four goals to claim a famous victory, but still wound up empty-handed, although no doubt with praise ringing in their ears from fans across Europe. Without Ronaldo's two athletic, headed goals, Real's performance would have probably seen them go out. He could sense that a shock might still be possible, even as time was running out, as he berated his teammates for not applying themselves better to the task at hand.
The game was akin to a schoolyard kick about, the highest scoring side wins, yet in this case they didn't. Maybe it was a hangover from their defeat in La Liga at the weekend, which saw them relinquish top spot to Barcelona after many months at the summit, but the away side had a belief that they could be beaten.
After a breathless first-half it had been 2-2, but Real still had an element of control, 4-2 ahead on aggregate. Schalke had the temerity to lead twice, Christian Fuchs scoring the opener and former Real striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar making it 2-1, with Ronaldo equalising both times with headers. The Portuguese ace's strikes may well have ultimately saved his side in the tie, as they prevented the Germans from ever gaining that two goal advantage that they required. They also moved him one clear of Lionel Messi on to 76 goals on the greatest Champions League goal scorers of all-time list, until the Argentinian faces Manchester City next week that is.
Sanity seemed to have prevailed as Karim Benzema then put the champions ahead just after the break. Rather than end their rival's resistance though, it seemed to increase their desire to attack the Los Blancos' rearguard. Substitute Leroy Sane brought the Germans deservedly level on 57 minutes, with a wickedly swerving shot that completely deceived Casillas.
It still seemed likely that the Spanish giants would see the tie out with relative ease, until Huntelaar again raised the temperature in the stadium, as he netted with six minutes remaining. Casillas kept out further Schalke efforts as the clock ran down, but the fifth goal proved elusive, much to Real's obvious relief.