Waiting costs Madrid as La Decima slips away again.
By Oliver Wilson
The ‘La Decima’ dream of Jose Mourinho feel through the Portuguese manager’s hands on Tuesday night as Borussia Dortmund completed their return to the Champions League final for the first time since 1997. Madrid will have to wait for their tenth European crown and it is that waiting that cost them a trip to Wembley in the final moments of their semifinal second leg.
60 minutes into the 2012 FA Cup semi-final, Tottenham Hotspur trailed Chelsea by just one goal after being 2-0 down after 50 minutes. Spurs were in full flow as Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon bore down on the Chelsea defense and the soon to be European Champions looked rocked to the core.
Chelsea had unjustly been given a 2-0 lead thanks to Juan Mata’s second half strike that had seemingly been cleared off the line by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Tottenham’s heads could have easily drowned in a sea of self-pity from then on but Spurs pressed on, searching for a sliver of hope. Hope which came in the form of a Bale strike seven minutes later. Rejuvenated and firing on all cylinders, Spurs suddenly began to press Chelsea’s defensive line, forcing them to near breaking point.
Just after the hour mark, though, Tottenham lost their thunder and their hopes of a revival were dashed. The drastic change in momentum came, not from a goal, a sending off, or another skeptical refereeing decision but from a brief few minutes of pause in play, as Didier Drogba lay motionless on the floor. Chelsea were in the middle of clearing their lines, pinned back inside their own 18-yard-box as Tottenham flooded forward once again as Martin Atkinson blew his whistle to bring a halt to proceedings. Drogba was down on the ground after a apparent clash of head and, as the rules of the game indicate, Atkinson paused play for a moment to allow the injured player to receive treatment.
The pause destroyed Tottenham’s grip on the game. Suddenly Chelsea could regroup without having to try and organize a flailing defense in mid-battle. New orders could be given, the ball could be pumped away form danger and Tottenham would have to find a new way forward. The turning point had taken place, the wind was sucked from the North Londoner’s sails and Chelsea’s warship was patched and ready for battle once again.
On Tuesday night, that same pause when Sven Bender dropped to the ground in the middle of the pitch changed the final minutes of the semifinal and may well have cost Jose Mourinho’s side a place in the Champions League final and possibly their 10th European title.
Madrid were shell-shocked after an astonishing Dortmund performance in Germany but in the Spanish capital, Madrid were handed a lifeline to recover from their 4-1 thumping a week ago. Sergio Ramos’ belated, but much needed, strike two minutes from time meant just one more goal was needed to send Madrid to the brink of history. Dortmund’s defense, that had tamed the three-headed monster of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain in the first leg, suddenly looked lost and even with 10 men behind the ball at all times, the yellow shirts were panicked and flustered as Madrid threw everything but the kitchen sink at their guests.
The speed in which their two late goals came gave Real such a momentum that it suddenly appeared, even with just two minutes plus stoppage time remaining, that the miracle Mourinho and co had been praying for was about to unfurl in front of us. There was almost no way that Madrid would not find that decisive third to put them into the Champions League final.
That was until a slightly ill-timed challenge by Luka Modric brought Bender down in the middle of the pitch. Unlike Drogba 12-months before, rather then being seen moments later sprinting around the pitch, Bender was forced off on a stretcher, but the impact of this delay was just as destructive to Madrid’s final surge.
Their flow was stifled and Dortmund had regrouped. The Spanish giants suddenly began to launch long balls forward to a crowded penalty area rather then pinning Jurgen Klopp’s side back inside the final third as they had done just moments before. The ticking clock appeared to panic Los Blancos despite the fourth official's sign showing five minutes of stoppage time and their chance at breaking through the Champions League semifinals at their third consecutive attempt was over.
Some will say that it was their own fault for finding their initial breakthrough too late, others will feel Dortmund got what they deserved after their domination of Madrid on home soil but whatever your reasoning, the fact is that it was two minutes of stalled play that cost Madrid as much as any chance missed that night. La Decima will have to wait another year for Europe’s most decorated club side.