It was more Easy Street than the Road to Wembley last night for Jose Mourinho as his Real Madrid side put their passage into the Champions League semi-finals almost beyond doubt with a resounding first-leg victory.
“They need a miracle but in football there are miracles that happen,” said Mourinho. “We have to have that in mind when we go there. But we know if we score one then they will need five.”
The Portuguese manager had noted before the game that many of Galatasaray’s players had big game and big club experience but a back four containing former Arsenal full-back Emmanuel Eboué and one time Liverpool winger Albert Riera creaked every time Real Madrid went forward and crumbled three times.
Didier Drogba, not 100 per cent by his own recent admission, did his best to test the home side’s defence but he was up against a defensive partnership of Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos which – unlike the man who did so much to ensure Chelsea won the Champions League last season – looks to have years ahead of it.
The Turkish champions’ supporters splashed their red and orange colours all around the Bernabeu but their team had reached its Champions League ceiling, displaying a naivety that Mourinho’s Madrid punished. He will feel that after the exertions of the group of death and their last-16 battle with Manchester United the hard work, at least until the semi-finals, has been done.
There was even time for Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso to pick up bookings that will see them serve convenient suspensions in the second leg, rather than have them hanging over Madrid’s key men in the semi-final. “We have the result we wanted, which was not conceding goals and scoring ourselves. But in football anything can happen,” Alonso said. “There are 90 minutes in Turkey and we have to play with intensity once again. We shouldn’t take anything for granted. We look forward in this competition and we are getting better.”
On nine minutes, Real went ahead when Mesut Ozil sent Cristiano Ronaldo clear and he shot past Fernando Muslera for his ninth Champions League goal of the season.
Ozil and Ronaldo were on the same wavelength again moments later but this time the move ended with Ronaldo’s cross going straight to Muslera. Wesley Sneijder, back in front of his former supporters and on the ground where he won the Champions League in 2010 under Mourinho, also sent a shot over as Galatasaray lived up to their pre-match promise to attack.
But Ozil drew another save from Muslera as Real continued to show their superiority. Michael Essien, a surprising pick ahead of Alvaro Arbeloa, was looking far more assured at right-back than the dropped Spain defender has in recent weeks and it was Essien who made the second goal.
On 28 minutes, he crossed from the right and with Galatasaray’s central defenders focused on Ronaldo, Karim Benzema arrived just behind and struck to keep up his impressive scoring record in the Champions League.
Just before the break, Galatasaray had their best chances when Eboué’s shot was saved by the legs of Diego Lopez and a long ball forward gave Drogba the chance to turn away from Varane inside the area, but the young defender recovered to clear.
Sneijder was taken off at half-time as Fatih Terim tried to salvage something from the first leg, bringing on Gokhan Zan but Real still looked the likelier team to score next with Muslera saving from Angel Di Maria.
Varane cleared a Drogba cross at the other end as the veteran did his best to take the fight to Real, but the home side made it three on 73 minutes when Alonso’s floated free-kick was headed home by Gonzalo Higuain who had replaced Benzema eight minutes earlier – a bonus for Mourinho to see both his strikers score in a season when they have left the goal burden to Ronaldo. The Portuguese almost added a fourth but saw his volley blocked by Eboué.
Burak Yilmaz was fouled by Ramos in the area but earned a yellow card that will see him miss the second leg instead of the penalty he deserved. And there was still time for Drogba to take a free-kick on the edge of the area but it cannoned tamely off the wall and away to safety as both his and Galatasaray’s Champions League campaign looked to have reached a close.
His great friend Mourinho will now sense his dream finale at Real Madrid – leading them into a Champions League final in London next month – has come that little bit closer.
Booked: Real Madrid Essien, Ramos, Modric. Galatasaray Dany, Melo, Drogba, Yilmaz.
If you have a complaint about the editorial content of the Belfast Telegraph or Sunday Life then contact the Editor here. If you are not satisfied with the response provided then you can contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation here
From the web
COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? email@example.com