“The history of this club helps us to carry on when it seems that we are gone.” Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti could well be right.
It is not the first time this season that his team seems to have ‘walked away’ from this season’s Champions League.
But for the third time the 13-time winners came back from the precipice.
This time Manchester City trailed 5-3 on aggregate in the final minute without having scored on goal throughout the game.
Then the substitute Rodrygo scored twice in 90 seconds. and Karim Benzema scored the winner in extra time from the penalty spot to send Real Madrid through to the final against Liverpool.
“What a football game. It’s probably the best I’ve ever seen in my life,” said former Real Madrid defender Jonathan Woodgate, watching a raucous Bernabéu for BBC Radio 5 Live.
If Rodrygo scored a late aggregate equalizer against an English side and Benzema scored the winner in extra time sounds familiar, it should. That’s what happened against European champions Chelsea in the quarter-finals.
In the last 16, they trailed Paris St-Germain 2-0 on aggregate with half an hour to go. Benzema scored a hat-trick in 17 minutes to settle that one.
In the group stage they lost to Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol and only took first place in the final round of matches.
Real are now aiming for their 14th European Cup when they take on Liverpool in Paris on May 28. That would be twice as much as any other team.
Ancelotti, who becomes the first manager to reach five Champions League finals, said: “I can’t say we are used to living this kind of life, but what happened tonight happened against Chelsea and also against Paris.
If you have to say why, it is the history of this club that helps us keep going when it seems that we are gone.
“The game was close to over and we managed to find the last bit of energy we had. We played a good game against a strong opponent. When we were able to equalise, we had a psychological advantage in extra time.”
Rodrygo, who scored from Benzema’s cross before heading in to make it 5-5 on aggregate, said: “We were losing the game, we were dead and what happened happened.
“With this shirt we learn to always fight until the end. We were almost dead but with my first goal we began to believe”.
Former England defender Woodgate, who played 14 times for Real in 2005-06, said: “You couldn’t write it down.
“The phenomenal football of Real Madrid and City did not come back. This stadium, these players, they never know when they are defeated. They just continue until the end.”
“At 80 minutes we thought ‘game over,’ not this crowd, not this team.”
Real’s last Champions League success came in 2018, when they beat Liverpool 3-1 in an incident-filled final in kyiv.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, speaking on BT Sport, said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a race to the final so topsy-turvy for a team.
“Moments when you think they’re out, you bet against them at every junction and they come and void it.”
Steve McManaman, who played for both teams and finalists Liverpool, said: “I was stunned up there. The 90th minute, no attempts on goal, Manchester City were on the move and then that happened.”
“For them to go on and win, it’s unbelievable after what we saw against PSG, what we saw against Chelsea. For them to do it tonight when they were ready to do it and get the result is an incredible feat.”
It crowns a great week for Real, which won the LaLiga title with a 4-0 victory over Espanyol on Saturday.
Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde called it “another crazy night”.
“When City scored, I felt like everything was falling apart, all that effort and fight in every round, he felt lost,” the Uruguayan said.
“But the fans were a great help for us to keep fighting until the end. When the goals come in, you think ‘we’re going to win today’.”
This is just the latest thriller in recent years in a Champions League that rarely disappoints.
The first leg, which ended 4-3 against City at the Etihad Stadium, was considered one of the best matches in the history of the tournament. The end of lap puts it at the height of great draws.
In 2019, Tottenham beat City on away goals (4-4 on aggregate) in the quarter-finals, with Raheem Sterling having a late, late goal that was ruled out by VAR after City celebrated wildly.
Spurs also benefited from a cliffhanger in the next round when Lucas Moura’s 96th-minute goal for a hat-trick took them to Ajax.
Barcelona has starred in three of the best qualifiers, experiencing both emotions.
In the first knockout round of 2017 they lost 4-0 in the first leg against PSG but won 6-1 at home, including three goals from the 88th minute onwards.
But in 2018 they squandered a 4-1 first-leg lead to lose to Roma on away goals and the following year lost 4-0 at Liverpool after winning the first leg 3-0.
Also in 2019, Marcus Rashford’s stoppage-time penalty helped Manchester United come from behind against PSG and secure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job.
McManaman believes this could be the best story yet if Real win the trophy.
“If they beat Liverpool in the final, going through PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City, I think it would be the best win ever,” he said.