Ramos is Real's solution to victory over Atletico
Ancelotti's gamble pays off as defender provides the height and steel in midfield role
QUARTER-FINAL, 2ND LEG
REAL MADRID 1
(Javier Hernandez 88)
ATLETICO MADRID 0
Real advance 1-0 on aggregate
Sergio Ramos was the centrepiece on a high-stakes table.
He was asked to do the job from a not-so-familiar midfield role. He was tasked to be the solution that puts an end to a wretched sequence against their derby rivals.
In the end, the Bernabeu yesterday morning (Singapore time) witnessed the best of Ramos, a player of such fine all-round stock that he has few, if any, peers in the same bracket.
Ramos showed his class.
From midfield, he formed the bedrock for Real Madrid's 1-0 victory, setting up the stage for a siege on an Atletico Madrid side as pragmatic as usual.
His leadership helped his team dominate an area that had caused their downfall time and again against Atletico, who had gone seven games unbeaten against Real until yesterday.
In a typically ferocious all-Madrid encounter which saw Atletico's Arda Turan sent off for a second bookable offence in the 76th minute, he kept his cool throughout.
From his right-midfield position, he exerted his influence everywhere, from defence to attack, stopping the opponents' attacks and facilitating his own team's raids. He made 71 passes - more than anyone else - and recorded an 83.1 per cent pass accuracy.
He proved to be the difference. But Real coach Carlo Ancelotti showed the courage.
A similar ploy in the El Clasico last season saw the Italian vilified as Barcelona won 2-1 at the Nou Camp.
Following yesterday morning's win, the coach revealed that his decision was made almost immediately after he realised that playmaker Luka Modric couldn't play because of a knee injury.
Ramos, he said, gives him "confidence" and gives the team "more height", which makes them "suffer less from set-pieces".
Ramos, he added, makes them less vulnerable to the opponents' counter-attacks.
Yet, had the gamble backfired, Ancelotti would have been crucified. He would have had to face the consequences of defeat, as well as explain his lack of faith in more obvious midfield replacements such as Sami Khedira, Asier Illarramendi or Lucas Silva.
Ancelotti, too, had no problems placing his trust on striker Javier Hernandez, who has rarely featured for Los Blancos.
Even when injuries to Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema left Ancelotti with few options, Hernandez still wasn't an automatic inclusion, with young Jese Rodriguez also in the running and Isco considered for an auxiliary striker role.
Before this match, Hernandez had played just 784 minutes over 24 games since joining Real on loan from Manchester United.
But "Chicharito" showed his composure as the match inched closer to extra time and penalty shoot-out.
The Mexican demonstrated that a lack of playing time hasn't diminished his predatory instincts. From almost at the penalty spot, he squeezed his shot between a defender and the goalkeeper for the only goal over 180 minutes of action.
In his post-match interview, he described the win as a "collective effort".
Indeed, Real rose to the occasion.
Midfielder Toni Kroos completed 62 of his 64 passes, playmaker James Rodriguez alone set up seven goalscoring chances, and defender Raphael Varane completed a match-high of 12 clearances.
They showed exactly the sort of resilience that Atletico are known for.
But in the post-mortem, one name will be mentioned more than the others - Ramos.
And rightly so.
"That's what the coach believed he should do and he (Ramos) played a fundamental role and we all benefited from his commitment."
- Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas on Ramos
CARLO: WE WILL BE STRONGER IN SEMIS
PREDATOR: Scorer of Real Madrid's only goal, Javier Hernandez (above) earning praise from coach Carlo Ancelotti despite his limited playing time. PHOTO: AFP
Real Madrid are not giving up their Champions League crown without a fight.
The Los Blancos showed plenty of grit to advance to the semi-finals yesterday morning (Singapore time) and coach Carlo Ancelotti immediately sent a warning to their rivals: "If we play with the desire we did today, Real Madrid can compete with anyone."
Champions Real, the 10-time European Cup/Champions League winners, are joined in the last four by Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus after their 1-0 aggregate win over city rivals Atletico Madrid yesterday morning.
Javier Hernandez scored the only goal of the tie two minutes from time. It was the first time in eight meetings that Real had beaten Atletico this season, but Ancelotti dismissed suggestions they lack the firepower to compete with tournament favourites Bayern Munich and Barca.
"We will recover the injured players for the semi-finals so the things are going to improve," said the Italian.
The holders were without the injured Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, as well as the suspended Marcelo.
But Ancelotti is confident that at least Bale and Benzema could be fit for the semi-finals.
"I think Bale and Benzema will be fit quickly but I cannot say an exact day," he said.
Hernandez was an unlikely hero, having started just six games all season before yesterday's match, but Ancelotti hailed his professionalism despite a lack of first-team opportunities due to the form of Benzema.
"Hernandez played very well, he played with a lot of desire. He has suffered a lot this season, he has played very little but he never gave up.
"In the difficult moments, he continued to train well and that has paid off for him in the end."
The decisive moment in the tie arguably came 12 minutes before Hernandez's goal, though, as Arda Turan saw a second yellow card for a high challenge on Sergio Ramos.
"I doesn't make any sense to have an opinion (on the red card) because the game is finished and anything I say can't affect what has happened," lamented Atletico boss Diego Simeone.
The outcome was eerily familiar for La Liga champions Atletico as a late goal from Ramos also denied them in last season's Champions League final before Real romped to a 4-1 victory in extra time.
However, Simeone hailed the work-rate of his side to once again push their much richer rivals all the way over 180 minutes.
"I go away proud of my team. Once more we competed very well in a very difficult competition," he said.
"When I was a boy, I was taught that in a game you have to compete and when you give everything and lose, I would go home happy. When the team work like it did today there are no negative feelings." - AFP.
Eurosport secures Champions League rights
Eurosport has secured exclusive media rights for the Champions League in Singapore for three years from next season. Eurosport will broadcast one "live" match each on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the entire season.
A highlight show will follow each "live" match and all additional matches will be made available to viewers online.
Eurosport is currently only available as part of StarHub TV's Sports Group package, on Channel 212. Singtel TV has broadcast rights for the Champions League from 2009 until the end of the current season.
A Singtel spokesman said yesterday that it had put in an unsuccessful joint bid with StarHub for the Champions League rights.
Asked whether Singtel would carry the Champions League next season, the spokesman said: "As you recall, our last Champions League rights deal was announced the day before the first match.
"We are still several months away from the start of the season, so anything can happen."
BY THE NUMBERS
19 The assist for Javier Hernandez's goal was Cristiano Ronaldo's 19th of the season.
50 The number of cleansheets by Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas, matching Edwin van der Sar's Champions League record.
8 Real have won all eight games that Gareth Bale has missed this season.
5 Real reached the last four of the Champions League for the fifth straight season, a club best. The all-time record is six by Barcelona from 2007/08.