Real Madrid moved a step closer to a first Champions League final appearance in 12 years when a Karim Benzema strike gave the record nine-times winners a 1-0 win at home to holders Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Bayern dominated possession in the semi-final, first leg at the Bernabeu without posing much of a threat to the home goal and Benzema’s 19th-minute effort means Real will have the advantage going into next week’s return in Munich.
Despite the victory, Real may live to regret not converting a couple of clear chances in the first half when Champions League top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, back after injury, and Angel Di Maria both produced wasteful efforts.
Bayern almost equalised late on but Mario Goetze was denied by a brilliant Iker Casillas save.
“It was a very tough match, intense and difficult They are a team which always likes to control the game and we virtually let them have possession of the ball,” Real defender Sergio Ramos told Canal Plus. “We worked superbly in defence and we knew how to create our chances and I think it is a satisfactory result to take to Munich and try to make it through to the final.”
It was a losing return to Spain for Bayern coach Pep Guardiola, who mostly got the better of Real in four trophy-laden seasons in charge of their arch rivals Barcelona between 2008 and 2012. With decorated Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti in his first season, Real have high hopes they can finally claim the elusive 10th European crown they have been chasing since their last triumph in 2002.
There was an electric atmosphere at their giant Bernabeu arena before kickoff and the home fans unfurled a huge banner proclaiming their status as “Kings of Europe”. However, it was the current champions and five-times winners who bossed the early stages with the Real players clearly under instructions to sit back and try and hit Bayern on the break.
The opening goal came from exactly that scenario. Toni Kroos had a shot blocked in the Real penalty area and the home side picked up possession and poured forward. Ronaldo played Fabio Coentrao in on the left and his low cross evaded the Bayern defence and found Benzema waiting at the far post to tap into an empty net.
Real were lifted by the goal and while Bayern were still enjoying long periods of fruitless possession the home side had two more clear chances on the breakaway. Ronaldo sliced a shot high and wide when well placed in the 26th minute and Di Maria found space in the area four minutes before the break but blasted his effort over the bar.
Real were first to threaten in the second period thanks to an error in the Bayern defence and Ronaldo, back after knee and thigh muscle injuries, raced clear on the right and forced a fine diving save from Manuel Neuer with a low shot.
The Portugal captain has a record-equalling 14 goals in the Champions League this season and was clearly hungry to set a new best and Neuer again had to be alert when Ronaldo cracked a low shot towards the corner in the 68th.
Bayern huffed and puffed, with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery probing down wither flank, but there was no way through the mass of Real defenders.
The Bundesliga champions enjoyed a good late spell and Goetze might have done better when left unmarked 10 metres out but Casillas was equal to his shot. In added time, Bayern claimed a penalty after Xabi Alonso dispossessed substitute Thomas Mueller when he was about to shoot but referee Howard Webb waved away their furious protests.
“We have to congratulate the team. We were the better side. These few centimetres were missing at times,” Robben told ZDF tv. “Goetze had a great chance. Had he scored it would be 1-1. But still we are fully confident. We expected a storm but they waited. That was a bit of a surpise. We had chances to score. It was a good game and I liked how we played, especially after the two weeks when we were not in top form.” (Reuters)
‘Will certainly improve in second leg’
Madrid: Holders Bayern Munich promised a sharp improvement when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after failing to convert the lion’s share of possession into goals in a 1-0 defeat in Spain on Wednesday.
Bayern enjoyed 80 percent possession in the first half but it was the nine-times European champions who scored when Karim Benzema completed a quick break in the 14th minute for the winner.
The Bavarians, hoping to become the first team to successfully defend the Champions League title, struggled to break down the solid Real defence.
When they did find a way through they were let down by sloppy finishing.
“What we were missing was the finish,” said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola, who is looking for a treble of titles in his first season in charge. “The result is certainly not ideal, but we can still improve in the second leg. We will analyse the game and then decide what our best options are for the return leg in order to successfully overcome this task.
I am very optimistic. Even more than before this game,” he added.
The sensational season Bayern have enjoyed so far suggests they are capable of turning the tie around at the Allianz Arena, where they will be backed by a vocal 60,000 crowd.
Their recent slump in form, however, has worried club officials and fans. After clinching the Bundesliga title in record time with seven games to spare they lost two of their next three league games, drawing the other.
“I don’t think there ever was another Bayern team that dominated at the Bernabeu the way we did it,” said Bayern sports director Matthias Sammer. “But the fact is we controlled possession, not the result.
“Now we have to make it happen in the second leg. We have to be ruthless in our finish.”—Reuters