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Real Madrid surprises Bayern Munich in Champions League

Casillas saves Real Madrid
Casillas saves Real Madrid
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In today's Champions League 2014 first leg semifinals, Spanish Football's La Liga hosts Real Madrid defeated German Football's Bundesliga visitors Bayern Munich 1-0, at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Madrid, playing a 4-4-2, with a clearly not-match-ready Cristiano Ronaldo, and benching the still-recovering-from-the-flu Gareth Bale, were outplayed by the visitors the entire first half. Bayern maintained 72% of possession, beating Real to divided balls and pressing them on their half of the pitch.

But Madrid seemed up to the task of stopping Bayern and the middle was so well defended by Isco, Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric, Angel di Maria, and the Real defense, that the wings seemed the only option for the Munich team. Ironically, Arjen Robben, perhaps their best offensive weapon, found himself double-teamed each time he became Bayern's wide offensive outlet. Time after time the Madrid defense stopped Bayern--sometimes cold, other tines with last gasp lunges or blocks, but never requiring a real save from goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Thus went the first 18 minutes.

Then came part two of Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti's strategy. The counter, a Madrid specialty since Jose Mourinho's days, was in full gear and at the 19th minute Fabio Coentrao found Ronaldo at about the midfield line. The striker, not able to do his usual sprints received, held and then delivered a perfect lead pass to his Portuguese teammate on the left wing. Coentrao's cross found Karim Benzema open at the far post for the easy put away. The resulting score line, Real 1, Bayern 0, was truly against the run of play.

But then the goal inspired Real and at the 25:46 mark another counter saw Ronaldo the recipient of a bouncing cross from Benzema, just about the penalty spot, and the Portuguese star miss-hit it over the crossbar when a simple downward touch would have ensured the second score.

At the 40:29 minute mark di Maria was the recipient of the final pass on another nice counter but he sent the ball skyward from very close range and with only Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer to beat.

It was clear by half-time that Ancelotti had played all his pieces well while Bayern coach, Pep Guardiola, had assumed his superior forces would simply show up and carry the day. Real's formation must have been a surprise as was Ronaldo's walk out onto the pitch.

As the second half began what each coach could do to out-fox the other seemed the question to answer, the players had already shown they could follow each leader's directions to a tee.

The first chess move was Ancelotti's as he substituted Gareth Bale for Ronaldo to wide applause. Then Guardiola countered bringing in offensive players for midfielders and taking Frank Ribbery out. The gamble, adding so many attacking players rescued Bayern from an impending Real possession take back. And it also provide Bayern with many more scoring opportunities.

At the 83rd minute Bayern's golden chance came. Mario Goetze was open in the box, just to the right of goal and about two yards outside the goalie's box, and took a point blank shot at goal going right to left. But the best keeper in the world, the one who always reacts so fast even when not called upon all game long, made the save and kept the score line intact for the Real Madrid win.

It may have been too little for Madrid. Bayern is certainly worth two goals at home. But Ancelotti is counting on both of his stars being healthy and ready for extended play in the second leg in Munich. It should be a game worthy of a championship final and not a semifinal.

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