Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray: Los Blancos Still Champions League Favorites
The European Cup is within Real Madrid's sights.
Despite losing to Galatasaray in the second leg of the two clubs' UEFA Champions League match on Tuesday, Madrid is in position to prove that their slow start to La Liga competition was nothing more than a fluke.
Los Blancos have already cemented their place in the Copa del Rey final against Atletico Madrid and will look to move to another final when Champions League play moves into the semifinal stage following Wednesday's second-leg matches.
There is little evidence to suggest that Madrid should not be considered favorites for their 10th European Cup trophy upon the conclusion of Champions League play.
After striking first behind the hottest footballer on the planet on Tuesday (Cristiano Ronaldo, that is), Los Blancos took an early 1-0 lead and moved ahead by four goals in the aggregate count.
However, the Turkish club stormed back in the second half, scoring three goals (Emmanuel Eboue, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba) to give the home side the lead and a shot to push the aggregate total back in their favor.
Ronaldo was having none of it.
The star striker added a fifth mark to the aggregate total (5-3) and pushed his side into the Champions League semifinals with an injury-time goal, although the final score at Turk Telekom Arena (3-2) was in favor of the home club as the final whistle blew.
Although the rest of the field is clearly packed with impressive sides, Madrid is the club to beat right now in Champions League play.
Since their Feb. 26 match against La Liga rival FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinals, Los Blancos have been on fire. Their record sits at 7-1-1, the first loss of that group coming against Galatasaray in the aggregate win.
The seven wins include two over Barca, one over Manchester United at Old Trafford and the necessary mark to move into both the Copa del Rey finals and Champions League Final Four, so to speak.
Borussia Dortmund punched its ticket to face Madrid in the semifinals with a win on Tuesday, while Paris Saint-Germain will take on Barcelona for one of the final two spots, and Juventus will battle Bayern Munich for the other on Wednesday afternoon.
While the move into the semis is great for the club, Ronaldo notes that the loss to Galatasaray (the club's first since a Feb. 2 loss to Granada) should be a motivating factor when preparing for the next round (via UEFA.com):
You learn from your mistakes; the team always give their best but from time to time we make mistakes – this can happen, and the best thing is it happened now and not in a decisive game. The most important thing is that Real Madrid are in the semi-finals.
Pepe echoed his sentiments:
It was a difficult second half. We didn't get into the game as we did in the first – we dropped back a lot, perhaps with an eye on trying to kill them off on the counterattack, but the most important thing is we managed to get through and we're all pleased.
Since Madrid has the win over Manchester United, two against Barca and arguably the best player on the planet right now (Ronaldo), there's little to discourage fans and oddsmakers from placing Madrid in the Champions League final conversation—even before the semifinals are played.
Which club should be the Champions League favorite?
While speculation continues to run rampant about Jose Mourinho's future (via The Independent), the Madrid manager did say on Wednesday that he would wait until the end of the season before discussing his role with the club any further.
Madrid will prepare for Dortmund in the next phase of the Champions League competition. With a double-digit European Cup chance, redemption from the latest loss and Ronaldo's hot leg carrying Madrid into the next round, don't be surprised if Los Blancos win the European Cup at the end of it all.
In fact, Madrid might already be hoisting a 2012-13 trophy (Copa del Rey) when Champions League finals commence in late May.
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