Galatasaray's task was not impossible, but it certainly was immense. Miracles have indeed been known to happen, but against an opponent as accomplished as Real Madrid, that might not have been enough.
Catastrophe would have been more like it—and it nearly was—in the hellish setting of the Turk Telekom Arena, a place that has been a purgatory for so many visiting teams. But not this one, and—after some nervous moments—not this time.
Real Madrid scored early and late through Cristiano Ronaldo, and held on for a 5-3 aggregate victory after losing 3-2 in Tuesday's quarterfinal second leg in Istanbul. The result sent Real to their third straight Champions League semifinal and in the process nearly made manager Jose Mourinho look like a prophet.
"After our first meeting I told my players that a team who won the first match 3-0 may lose the second by the same result," Mourinho had said in the build-up (via UEFA.com). "I said anything is possible and we must be very careful against Galatasaray."
They had to be careful indeed, even after apparently killing off the tie in the eighth minute. At that point for Galatasaray, following the three-goal defeat at the Bernabeu a week ago, offense was imperative. But in the absence of striker Burak Yilmaz, the hosts stuttered for the first 45 minutes and eventually ran out of time.
Didier Drogba has a history of scoring against Spanish clubs in the Champions League, and with Yilmaz suspended, his contribution Tuesday was only that much more critical. Unfortunately for Gala, it wasn't until after halftime that he came close to replicating the magic that helped carry Chelsea to European glory last spring.
Across the pitch, his former boss had selection issues of his own. Defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Xabi Alonso were suspended, but such is the quality in Jose Mourinho's squad that talents like Pepe and Luka Modric were available to slot in.
Not surprisingly, that was the squad that had the first sight of goal, through Angel Di Maria in the opening moments. Even less surprisingly, Ronaldo scored the first goal. The breakthrough came in the eighth minute, when Sami Khedira pushed forward and crossed from the right for Ronaldo, lurking unchecked in the six-yard box, to power home.
Ronaldo scored in front of the net. If you let Ronaldo get the ball inside the six yard area, you get what you deserve.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) April 9, 2013
The same player scoring a totally different type of goal separated the sides last week in Spain. Such a fact is not only impressive, it should cause shivers in any opposing defenders left in this season's Champions League. Ronaldo can score on any team at any time, and more often than not, he does.
Neither Ronaldo nor Real were quite done yet. The Portuguese superstar teed up Di Maria with a beautiful backwards flick midway through the half, and though his shot was saved, Real were as comfortable as they made it look.
With 11 goals in this season's Champions League, a personal record, Cristiano Ronaldo stands alone as the competition's top scorer. Not coincidentally, Real hold that honor for teams as well.
With this latest strike, the tie seemed all but over. And for the moment, Galatasaray's fearsome home-pitch advantage went with it. With Real holding a 4-0 aggregate lead, the final 80-plus minutes threatened to become something between a practice match and resume booster for Real's semifinal run.
Welcome to Hell? Well if hell is an all you can eat buffet then think Real might gorge themselves silly. 1-0 Ronaldo. #UCL— James Masters (@Masters_JamesD) April 9, 2013
It didn't quite turn out that way.
Early in the second half, the only questions left seemed to be which Real Madrid players would be rested and how Ronaldo could have fluffed another chance in the 57th minute. But then the visitors faltered, and Galatasaray nearly made them pay.
Emmanuel Eboue leveled the score with a stunning, thunderous drive moments after Ronaldo's miss, and in the 71st minute, Sneijder—not long after missing a sitter of his own—gave Gala the lead. Moments later, Drogba's back-heel brilliance made it 3-1 and added an element of nervous anxiety to the final 15 minutes.
Real barely seemed capable of believing it, and the situation only worsened when Alvaro Arbeloa was sent off for his second yellow card in the waning minutes. But in the end, Galatasaray's would-be comeback ran out of time, and in truth it probably started too late to stop Real from progressing to the semifinals.
Just to make sure, Ronaldo scored his second in stoppage time, tucking home Karim Benzema's deep cross to end it once and for all.
Mourinho on Sky Italia: "My team only became a team again at the very end. Why? Because they were scared, that's why."— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) April 9, 2013
The result will take some of the gloss off Real, but when the semifinal draw comes out it will barely matter. With Ronaldo in scoring form and a two-time Champions League winner walking the touchline, this is still a fearsome team capable of beating the best.