Real Madrid, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Paris St Germain all booked their places in the quarter-finals of this year’s UEFA Champions League after the first half of last 16 ties reached a dramatic conclusion this week.
Madrid’s clash with runaway Premier League leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford provided the top billing and was indeed finely poised following a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg three weeks ago.
The biggest ties in Europe rarely pass by devoid of controversy and Tuesday night’s proceedings at the Theatre of Dreams certainly proved no exception, as the questionable second half dismissal of United winger Nani turned a game, seemingly in the command and control of the hosts, on its head.
After a promising and comfortable first period, the Red Devils took a deserved advantage three minutes into the second half when Madrid caved in to United’s concerted pressure and Sergio Ramos diverted the ball past veteran reserve keeper Diego Lopez – who had otherwise turned in a heroic display to keep his side on terms.
United’s goal effectively did little in changing what Real Madrid had to do but with the momentum fully with Alex Ferguson’s men it looked extremely unlikely that Los Merengues would outscore their opponents before the full time whistle.
An intriguing, if not quite captivating tie, was swung however near the hour mark when a high challenge by Nani on Alvaro Arbeloa was punished with a straight red card from referee Cuneyt Cakir, much to the dismay of the United dugout and raucous home support.
With United a man light, Madrid boss Jose Mourinho smelt blood and immediately sent on midfield maestro Luka Modric to capitalise on his team’s numerical advantage in the centre of the field.
The change reaped instant dividends as Madrid hit the hosts with a wave of attacks nullified only by the last ditch nouse of Ferdinand, Vidic and co in the United rear-guard.
But their resolve was broken on 66 minutes as the superb Modric struck tremendously from 20 yards to level matters, before Cristiano Ronaldo netted from close range just a few moments later to give Real a 2-3 aggregate lead and leave the three times champions an impossible task.
Unsurprisingly, match referee Cakir was met with stern and sarcastic protest at the final whistle, whilst a quietly jubilant Mourinho slipped off down the tunnel to contemplate on yet another fine European managerial success at Old Trafford.
Real will be joined in the last eight of the competition by Italian kings Juventus who completed a comprehensive 5-0 aggregate victory over Celtic with a 2-0 success in Turin, courtesy of goals either side of the break from Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella.
Borussia Dortmund also qualified for the next round in style with a 3-0 win against Shakhtar Donetsk, following on from the 2-2 draw which they obtained in Ukraine.
Goals from Felipe Santana and Mario Gotze put the hosts well in control prior to half time – and the seal was put on their triumph after an hour by Polish star Jakub Blaszczykowski who continued to demonstrate just how vital he is to Dortmund’s chances of going all the way this season.
Madrid’s Spanish compatriots Valencia will not feature in the quarters however after they were seen off by Paris St Germain in the French capital.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side took to the field without hitman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and new signing David Beckham in the line-up, nevertheless they had enough in hand to see off their opponents 3-2 on aggregate after Ezequiel Lavezzi’s 66th minute effort cancelled out Jonas Oliveira’s goal ten minutes into the second half.
PSG were rated as potential dark horses at the beginning of the campaign and they will now be confident of further progress after achieving their first Champions League quarter-final berth in 18 years.