Real Madrid will take a slender lead to the Allianz Arena next week after defeating Champions League holders Bayern Munich 1-0 in the first leg of their semi-final clash at the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to Karim Benzema’s close range finish.
But they will rue missing a host of chances that could have seen the nine-time European Cup winners take a more comfortable advantage to Germany as they look to reach the final and win the coveted Decima in May.
Cristiano Ronaldo was named in the starting 11 having missed four games through injury, but Gareth Bale was left on the bench having suffered with flu this week. Los Merengues lined up in a 4-4-2 formation much like they did last week when they defeated Barcelona in Valencia to lift the Copa del Rey.
The first half was dominated by the visitors in terms of possession, Pep Guardiola’s team enjoying a remarkable 79% of the ball, but never really threatening the Madrid goal.
From the off, Munich pressed high up the field and Madrid could not get out of their own half, having to endure wave after wave of Bayern attack. The closest the visitors came through was through ex-Los Blancos player Arjen Robben who created some space in the area but saw his effort go wide of the target.
Madrid’s game plan was clearly to soak up pressure and hit the Germans on the counter. and they did that to perfection on 18 minutes. Having barely had a touch of the ball, fit again Ronaldo played an inch perfect pass for Fabio Coentrao to run onto. His low cross took out two defenders and Karim Benzema was at the back post to tap home from close range and send the home support delirious.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side then had three other opportunities to score before the break. Ronaldo proved he was human when he blazed over the bar with a half volley having been set up by Benzema. That came just two minutes after the opening goal and had he converted, the Champions League holders would have been hanging on by a thread. The Portugal international went close again with a header that was saved by Manuel Neuer.
And just before the interval, Angel di Maria could have doubled the hosts’ lead but sliced his effort over when he was left unmarked at the back post.
The game continued in similar fashion after the half time break, with Bayern enjoying long spells of possession by never really threatening Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal, with Pepe and Ramos marshalling the defence expertly.
Ronaldo had a left footed shot saved on the 70 minute mark before being removed for Gareth Bale. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich made changes to try and force an equaliser, and Thomas Muller sent in an effort that whistled past the post.
Five minutes from the end Iker Casillas made a superb save from Mario Goetze. The German international looked set to score but his shot from 10 yards out was kept out by the World Cup winner.
Hearts were in mouths in stoppage time when Thomas Muller went to ground under a challenge by Xabi Alonso, but referee Howard Webb waved away the calls for a penalty. With that the game was over and Los Blancos take a slender lead to hold onto next week.