Mexican ends stand-off as 'Little Pea' pops up with big goal
Real Madrid 1 Atletico Madrid 0: Real win 1-0 on aggregate
Published 23/04/2015 | 02:30
Life frequently presents opportunities for those who never give up, who work tirelessly, and Javier Hernandez seized his chance in every sense as the Bernabeu paid huge homage to the Little Pea.
It needed a Mexican to end the stand-off with rugged neighbours and Hernandez duly delivered, sending Real into the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Real's No 14 is on loan from Manchester United, has his future clouded with uncertainty, and was playing here only because of injuries to Carlo Ancelotti's regulars. He missed a couple of excellent chances but was nerveless when it mattered most, turning in Cristiano Ronaldo's pass, and giving Real their first win in eight attempts over their neighbours this season.
This was always going to be hard-fought. Atletico disrupted Real's flow through fair means and foul, wasting time, complaining, and defending superbly in the first half where they managed only 32pc possession, making 93 completed passes to Real's 274. They tracked Ronaldo so closely they would have known what cologne he was wearing. Miranda and Diego Godin resembled experienced bouncers barring the way to goal.
This was a Madrid derby with Europe at stake, as well as local bragging rights. Atletico's bus had arrived at the Bernabeu with police horses cantering alongside, and accompanied by screams of abuse from a caustic reception committee of Real supporters.
There had seemed an air of triumphalism amongst the Real fans as their team bus wove its way through the hordes, spilling off the pavements, and peering through the smoke from the flares. Ancelotti's selection had been complicated but they settled well enough.
Fabio Coentrao, returning from injury, replaced the suspended Marcelo at left-back and managed to make a few breaks down the flank. Isco benefited from Gareth Bale's calf problem, immediately driving down the left, dovetailing with Coentrao.
Real did most of their best work in the first half out wide. The centre was clogged. Raphael Varane partnered Pepe at the back with Sergio Ramos pushing into midfield to fill in for Luka Modric, who had damaged his knee.
Hernandez started up front after Karim Benzema's knee injury failed to clear up.
Hernandez's season had begun in wretched fashion at Manchester United, losing at home to Swansea before the humiliation of the 4-0 rout by MK Dons.
He then departed on loan to Real and this Atletico challenge had been his chance to convince the doubters that he was worth keeping on. From Capital One Cup second round to quarter-finals of the Champions League, it was quite a change in fortunes.
He worked tirelessly in the first half, covering so much ground, even tracking back after seven minutes to break up an Atletico attack, triggering chants of "Chicharito".
Ronaldo was cutting in from the left, frequently shadowed by Arda Turan.
After a good exchange between Ramos and Dani Carvajal, the ball ran on to Ronaldo who had raced across from the left towards the inside-right channel. Real's No 7 chose to shoot from an improbable range and angle, even for him, and Turan slid in to block.
The Turkey international then clipped Ronaldo's heels, reminding the Portuguese that he would not be allowed to run the show unfettered. A loose ball in the 16th minute afforded Pepe the chance of a free hit at Turan, who gestured his displeasure.
Real were beginning to link with promise. Hernandez shot at Jan Oblak, the Slovenian who had kept Real at bay at the Vicente Calderon.
The Mexican then received a wonderful return pass from James Rodriguez, the ball flicked with the outside of his boot, but he shot into side netting. A quick-fire move saw Rodriguez drive the ball to the feet of Hernandez, who flicked it inside to Ronaldo. Atletico's defence briefly opened up but Ronaldo's shot flew off course.
Real fans continued to believe. The visitors were content to sit deep, hitting only occasionally on the break. Atletico had Antoine Griezmann playing off Mario Mandzukic but were almost more reliant on long throws to trouble Real in the early stages.
Ronaldo made some important clearing headers.
The game remained more about physics then chemistry. Ronaldo was clattered by Jesus Gamez, gifting Real a free-kick right of centre, 25 yards from goal. Rodriguez curled a shot over. Real then squandered the ball, allowing Gamez a shot at goal which was well saved by Iker Casillas.
Turan was eventually booked for another foul, this time on Toni Kroos.
Ronaldo took responsibility for the free-kick which was pushed away by Oblak. Real maintained the pressure, making good use of the multi-ball system, continually attacking.
Yet when Ronaldo dribbled upfield from deep, collapsing under pressure from Atletico, the experienced German referee Felix Brych waved away his appeals. A few minutes later, surely coincidentally, Wayne Rooney tweeted that "the referee in the Madrid game has been excellent". True.
Brych tried to keep the game flowing, despite the filibustering of Diego Simeone's side. Atletico were in their manager's mould: uncompromising. Saul Niguez and Turan did not hold back. Miranda flattened Hernandez. Niguez knocked over Ramos.
The half closed with Real wasting a marvellous opportunity. Rodriguez released Ronaldo, who finally had escaped from his many markers, but his shot was poor, allowing Oblak to save.
Real should have scored three minutes after the restart. Isco played a magnificent reverse pass to Hernandez, whose shot whistled wide.
The pattern remained the same, mainly white-shirted attack against red-and-white-striped defence. Ronaldo lifted in a good cross on the hour but Oblak caught Ramos' header.
For 87 minutes, Atletico were giving a masterclass in defending. Godin read the danger and sprinted out to make a sliding clearance on Ramos. But Atletico were still creating occasional chances.
Ramos blocked a Godin drive. Turan then dinked in a great ball to Koke but the midfielder failed to direct his header past Casillas. Raul Garcia kicked Varane and the fouls eventually caught up with Atletico.
After 75 minutes, although it was more like 78 by the time he had ambled from the field, Turan was dismissed for a second yellow, this time a challenge on Ramos. Real's No 4 certainly milked it, ensuring that Brych punished Turan, and guaranteeing Atletico went down to 10.
Real made the extra man count without recourse to extra time.
When Rodriguez fed the ball in to Ronaldo, Hernandez began making his move, and Ronaldo passed to him. Hernandez had one split-second to address the ball, but he proved the poacher supreme, sweeping the ball home. He then departed to a standing ovation as the Real fans chanted "Chicharito, Chicharito".
It was a long way from MK Dons. (© Daily Telegraph, London)