Despite two late goals, Real Madrid fell just short of completing an incredible comeback as a 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabeu saw the German side through to the Champions League final, 4-3 on aggregate.
After Dortmund had withstood an early onslaught due some wasteful finishing from Madrid, the visitors looked set to progress comfortably as they played with increasing assuredness. They should have put the game beyond doubt too but spurned a succession of chances in the second half.
Those missed chances looked unlikely to be significant, but, when Karim Benzema diverted a cross into the net with seven minutes remaining, fresh life was breathed into the contest. And Sergio Ramos’ clinical strike five minutes later left Madrid needing just one more goal to progress and ensure an edge-of-the-seat finale.
But Dortmund, who had been on the other side of a famous comeback in the quarterfinals, managed to resist one of even greater proportions from Madrid to book their trip to Wembley on May 25.
While it was all Madrid at the end, as in Germany, Dortmund had been the better side for large parts of the encounter and over the two legs Jurgen Klopp’s men were the deserved victors and can now prepare for the club's first Champions League final since they won the competition back in 1997.
As for Madrid, their quest for an elusive 10th European Cup ends for another season and the curtain may also have effectively come down on the Jose Mourinho era at the Bernabeu.
While it was all Madrid at the end, as in Germany, Dortmund had been the better side for large parts of the encounter and over the two legs Jurgen Klopp’s men were the deserved victors as they prepare for their first Champions League final since they won the competition back in 1997.
Dortmund had set the tone for their first-leg demolition by coming out of the blocks with unbridled energy and Madrid knew that they had to do something similar to have a chance of creating a famous turnaround. They did just that as the hosts pushed forward looking to get an early goal to ignite the electric Bernabeu atmosphere even further.
Yet, a goal was the only thing missing from their performance in the first 15 minutes, although it wasn’t for the lack of chances.
As early as the fourth minute, Madrid had the sort of opportunity that manager Jose Mourinho would have been dreaming about his side creating in the opening exchanges. Gonzalo Higuain, again selected ahead of Benzema, failed to take advantage, though, as he struggled to get the ball out of his feet from Mesut Ozil's through ball and Roman Weidenfeller was able to block a low shot with his legs.
With Madrid closing down as enthusiastically as their opponents had done in Germany, Dortmund were struggling to stop the flow of attacks and even get out of their own half. There was plenty of nerves at the back too.
The visitors did create a chance out of nothing when Lewandowski was unforgivably left free in the box and chested and volleyed at goal, but Madrid were soon back on the attack.
With a similar but even better opportunity than Lewandowski’s seconds before, Cristiano Ronaldo’s volleyed effort was blocked by the heavily involved Weidenfeller.
Perhaps the clearest opportunity fell the way of Mesut Ozil in the 15th minute. From Higuain’s delightful instant touch around the corner of his marker, the German raced clear into the box but, ignoring the option of a square pass to Ronaldo to slot home, he fired woefully wide of the near post.
By that point Dortmund had lost the counter-attacking threat of Mario Gotze to injury but they had crucially -- as much by Madrid’s profligacy as their own resilience -- withstood the early onslaught.
As the half wore on Klopp’s young side became increasingly comfortable, with Madrid unable to maintain the incredible energy of the opening. Dortmund’s pressing game regained its effectiveness and they began to threaten on the break.
Straight after the interval, two clear chances would fall Dortmund’s way to surely seal the tie, but Lewandowski failed to reproduce the clinical efficiency in front of goal form the first leg. After first blasting over from the left of the area, a through ball from Marco Reus got him in on the other side of the box but this time his near-post shot crashed off the underside of the cross bar and came down just the right side of the line from Madrid’s point of view.
It was an increasingly assured Dortmund display. When Madrid did threaten to get through Dortmund’s center-back duo of Mats Humnels and Neven Subotic were defending superbly to deny a clear opportunity at goal.
Indeed the better chances were continuing to fall Dortmund’s way in the second period. Ilkay Gundogan looked certain to take the best of them as Reus slid the ball across the box for the onrushing midfielder, but Diego Lopez got across brilliantly to block the effort.
Lewandowski wasted yet another opportunity, but when substitute Kaka headed wide for Madrid the match appeared to be set for a tame conclusion.
Instead it was anything but. Substitute Benzema smashed in Ozil’s late cross and suddenly the Bernabeu crowd came to life once more. And Madrid’s players also found a fresh lease of life. It was now all one-way traffic and Ramos soon crashed the ball into the net from Benzema’s pull back.
The third goal would prove a hurdle too far, though, as Dortmund survived the five minutes of injury time and ensure their incredible run in this season’s Champions League heads all the way to Wembley.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.