Wednesday 21 March 2018

Turkish delight for rampant Real

Real Madrid's pursuit of 'el decima', a 10th European Cup, continues to gather pace.

They were far too intelligent and potent on the counter-attack for Galatasaray, who were far too disorganised defensively. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, inevitably, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain put Madrid in total charge of this tie.

Madrid fans could even afford to applaud when their captain, Sergio Ramos, was cautioned late on for a needless trip that rules him out of the visit to Istanbul.

This means there is no risk of his missing the semi-final which Real are now overwhelming favourites to reach. Pepe can slot in at centre-half alongside Raphael Varane, who was outstanding.

As well as Varane, Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil were superb for Jose Mourinho's side. Mourinho, who would love a return to Wembley and the final, himself demonstrated once again how brilliant he is at setting up a team for European combat; the tactics and tempo blew Fatih Terim's Turks away.


Hunting a record 24th semi-final in this glittering competition, Real Madrid had wasted little time in flooding through the many holes in Galatasaray's defence, cruising to a two-goal lead within half-an-hour.

Ozil, the son of Turkish gastarbeiters in Germany, was darting all over, dribbling the ball into dangerous areas. Ronaldo, released by a gem of a pass from Ozil, scored. So did Benzema and it could have been more such was the porous nature of the Turkish defence. Their centre-half Dany Nounkeu even swapped shirts with Benzema as they went off at half-time.

Benzema had been picked to start ahead of Higuain and Mourinho's judgment was vindicated. Real's coach was also rewarded for his decision to select Michael Essien at right-back ahead of Alvaro Arbeloa; Essien kept driving down the flank, even creating Benzema's goal. Given Chelsea's number of games currently they must regret allowing Essien to leave on loan.

The first half could hardly have gone better for Mourinho. The game had started frantically, responding to the noise on the terraces mainly emanating from the Galatasaray supporters.

The visitors were looking to work the ball to Wesley Sneijder, Mourinho's old Inter Milan schemer, and on to Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso began cutting off those supply lines.

Real took the ball and took control. They did not need long to score. After nine minutes, Ozil's skill and vision created Ronaldo's ninth goal of this Champions League campaign.

Ronaldo controlled Ozil's pass and calmly lifted the ball over Fernando Muslera. It was his 18th goal in 16 Champions League games and 106th in 94 appearances in all competitions for Real at the Bernabeu.

Galatasaray almost equalised. Hamit Altintop exchanged passes with Drogba but shot wide. Their defence was so vulnerable to the sort of quick counter-attacks that Madrid specialise in.

After 29 minutes, Muslera was beaten for a second time, again left exposed by his defence. Essien crossed from the right, Ronaldo missed but Galatasaray's defence hesitated and Benzema fired in.

Terim tried to break Real's stranglehold. He switched at the break, withdrawing the anonymous Schneider, sending on Gokhan Zan and realigning the team as 3-5-2. Real remained in charge and went looking for a third.

Mourinho's magic continued to work. He removed Benzema and sent on Higuain, who promptly scored. Again, Galatasaray's deficiencies played a part; their pursuit of the ball rarely looked an exact science.

Drogba fouled Sergio Ramos, presenting Alonso with a free-kick. Alonso curled the ball towards the penalty spot. Again, Turkish marking was absent, allowing Higuain to flick a header past Muslera.

Drogba had a chance with a late free-kick to inject more life into the second leg but his strike could not clear the wall. Madrid were too formidable. This was almost too easy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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