Holders Madrid survive severe Schalke scare to progress
Champions League holders Real Madrid suffered a stunning 4-3 defeat at the hands of Roberto Di Matteo’s Schalke, but managed to edge into the quarter-finals 5-4 on aggregate in a thrilling encounter at the Bernabeu.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Galacticos, 3/1 favourites with Coral to retain their European crown, survived a severe scare to reach their fifth consecutive last eight appearance on a night that Cristiano Ronaldo broke the all-time Champions League goals record.
The hapless hosts had to hang on into the final seconds of this sensational second leg clash, after securing a 2-0 first leg advantage, as the Bundesliga outfit moved to within just a single goal of causing a sublime upset.
Despite having started the game two goals behind on aggregate, defiant Schalke eventually led twice, through Christian Fuchs and former Madrid marksman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but rampant Ronaldo levelled both times with a header to secure his position as Europe’s all-time deadliest hitman.
Ferocious French forward Karim Benzema gave Ancelotti’s stuttering Spanish giants the advantage after the break, securing 20 season goals for the fifth consecutive campaign, but late strikes from Leroy Sane and deadly Dutchman Huntelaar forced Real to endure an extremely nervous finish.
The final whistle came as a huge relief to a faltering Los Blancos outfit, but was met by a rapturous round of jeers from the Bernabeu faithful, with current boss Ancelotti having been criticised recently after four defeats since the turn of the year.
Despite ending a 12-year wait to capture La Decima, a record 10th European title, last season, the home side were completely out of sorts and struggled to stamp any authority on the game.
Club hero and goalkeeper Iker Casillas forced his teammates to remain on the Bernabeu pitch following this latest defeat, much to several players’ disgust, but it was the Spanish stopper who was at fault throughout, with another calamitous showing between the sticks.
Casillas’ underwhelming performance will only fuel speculation of a move for sublime Spaniard and Manchester United number one David de Gea, as his reputation grows with every passing Red Devils fixture in England’s top-flight division.
Although, Real’s lacklustre shot-stopper was not the only Galactico to have endured a torrid European night, with under-fire attacker Gareth Bale again continuing to suffer from second season syndrome, while World Cup winning midfielder Sami Khedira looked discontent and Fabio Coentrao was out of sorts.
Spanish playmaker Isco was a shining light on a dark night in the capital and midfield maestro Luka Modric made a welcomed return from long-term injury, with Ronaldo again capturing the headlines after another record-breaking outing.
Madrid are still favourites to historically retain their European title, and are 11/8 to reach this year’s final in Berlin.