It was almost impossible. Almost. When the game looks dead in the Champions League this season, Real Madrid will keep it alive. Rodrygo scored twice for Real Madrid in 84 seconds to stun Manchester City and take the game into extra-time, before Karim Benzema scored the winning penalty to secure the most improbable turnaround, with a 3-1 win on the night.
For 89 minutes - this was an almost perfect away performance from Pep Guardiola’s side. The tie was won. The match report was written and City were set for an all-English Champions League final against Liverpool. Riyad Mahrez’s goal looked like it was enough to win the game on the night, until Rodrygo was introduced from the bench. Then, as it has so many times this season, chaos ensued.
Two goals, the first a tap-in and the second a header from close range in little over a minute would have blown the roof off the Bernabeu, had it been built yet. We saw it against PSG and we saw it against Chelsea, but this was the most dramatic of the lot as the home side scored with their first two attempts on target.
Guardiola was left stunned. Stone cold on the touchline, as if he couldn’t believe what had unfolded in front of his eyes. Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti clenched his fist, as if he had seen this was all part of the plan. Once we got to extra-time, it was almost a forgone conclusion as Benzema won a penalty, before converting to send Real Madrid to yet another final.
This is their competition, it always has been. Now the final will be a rematch of the 2018 edition, where Loris Karius stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons for Jurgen Klopp's Reds.
For Manchester City and Guardiola, this is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the lot. They almost played this tie to perfection, as the returning Kyle Walker that nullified the home sides’ main threat Vinicius Jr, but without him on the pitch, they fell apart late on.
Time after time his pace got City out of danger and his recovery runs have been so vital for club and country over the past few years. He even battled on when injured for 20 minutes in the second half, something that will worry Pep Guardiola for the Premier League run in, given his sensational showing tonight.
Early on, Luka Modric scooped a ball over to Vinicius to run onto but Walker was there to block him off. Minutes later, he had a three yard advantage in a foot race with Walker but the Englishman got back in time to make a crunching tackle. City had to make do with a combination of John Stones and Fernandinho at right-back in the first leg - and Walker’s return was so noticeable.
At half-time, with Walker on the pitch, City didn’t look like conceding, however, he was limping at the end of first period and hobbled through 25 minutes of the second half, but couldn’t continue after another collision with Vinicius.
City’s defensive unit was upset, and although it took a while, Madrid would capitalise. But Real Madrid should have been ahead seconds into the second half. City’s offside trap was exposed and Dani Carvajal squared for Vinicius Jr, who somehow missed from a couple of yards out.
Yet, it was two brave changes from Pep that almost immediately led to the City’s goal. Zinchenko came on for Walker, who could barely walk by that point, and Kevin De Bruyne was replaced by Ilkay Gundogan. The two substitutes combined with quick passes to free Bernardo Silva, who fed Mahrez and the Algerian smashed his finish into the near post.
With minutes to go, City should have put the game out of reach. Cancelo pinged one towards goal before Jack Grealish’s surging run was denied by a miraculous block off the line and then his effort was stopped by Courtois’ studs as City went for the kill.
It felt like a big moment, but seconds later, it would become monumental. Rodrygo got on the end of a Benzema cut back to bring the Bernabeu to life and City collapsed under the weight of this famous old stadium. The cross came in from the right and 21-year-old Brazilian rose highest to head home.
Extra-time was a flurry of emotions as Benzema converted from the spot to put Los Blancos in control of the tie for the first time. The Bernabeu completely believed in the cause and has been such a factor in this remarkable Madrid run. City had a chance to equalise on the stroke of half-time as Fernandinho failed to poke home while in truth, hardly any football was played in the second period as Real Madrid did what they do best.
They are into another Champions League final, while City are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to win the Premier League title.