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Spain Spotlight: More about survival than brilliance as Real Madrid advances

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane reacts during a Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Juventus at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Francisco Seco / Associated Press)
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane reacts during a Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Juventus at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Francisco Seco / Associated Press)

MADRID – For Real Madrid, it was more about survival than brilliance this time.

There was no hat trick or bicycle kick from Cristiano Ronaldo. There was no midfield dominance by Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. The defense was sloppy without Sergio Ramos.

Madrid needed to find a way to stay alive in the Champions League despite not playing its best against Juventus, and it did with a determined performance that culminated with Ronaldo’s injury-time penalty in a 3-1 loss that was just enough for a 4-3 aggregate win.

“I knew we were going to suffer,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “They approached the match in the right way and we didn’t. We struggled with our game.”

Madrid had won 3-0 in the first leg in Turin last week, when Ronaldo scored one of his two goals with an amazing overhead kick.

The Spanish team seemed set for a comfortable second leg, but Juventus came out pressing at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and took the lead two minutes into the match. The crowd got nervous when Mario Mandzukic added his second goal before halftime, and the unlikely comeback was nearly complete when Blaise Matuidi scored the third about 15 minutes into the second half.

But just when it looked like the match was going to extra time, the referee called for a foul on Lucas Vazquez inside the area in the third and final minute of stoppage time. Ronaldo then converted from the spot to send Madrid to the semifinals for the eighth straight season.

“The Champions League is unforgiving and you have to be focused for the entire match,” Vazquez said. “We knew how to suffer until the end and that goal by Cristiano was crucial.”

Madrid struggled in defense as Ramos was suspended and Nacho Fernandez was out injured, prompting youngster Jesus Vallejo had to play in central defense alongside Raphael Varane. Juventus’ first two goals came with headers from inside the area, and the third followed a blunder by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Madrid owns a record 12 European titles, and has won the competition in three of the last four seasons, but it hasn’t always been easy despite success in its past campaigns.

Last year, Madrid eased past Napoli 6-2 in the round of 16, but it needed extra time to get past Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. It lost the second leg 2-1 at home but Ronaldo scored twice in extra time to keep Madrid alive. It carried a three-goal advantage against city rival Atletico Madrid in the semifinals, holding on despite a 2-1 loss in the return match after conceding two early goals.

In the 2016 quarterfinals, Madrid lost 2-0 to Wolfsburg in the first leg in Germany but stayed on track for the title with a 3-0 win at home. It then edged Manchester City 1-0 in the semifinals before winning the tournament in a shootout against Atletico Madrid.

Madrid’s semifinal opponent this season will be known in Friday’s draw. Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Roma also advanced.

“There are no favorites in this stage,” Madrid right back Dani Carvajal said. “The four teams in the semifinals could end up winning the title and we are aware of that as we try to make it through to (the final in) Kiev.”


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