Real Madrid all-but booked their place in the last four of the Champions League as they comfortably brushed aside the challenge of Galatasaray in the first leg of their quarterfinal at the Bernabeu.
It was a challenge by Galatasaray that began boldly as they looked to play the match on their own terms with Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder and Burak Yilmaz all in the side. But, after Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema had taken advantage of the opposition’s susceptibility at the other end to put Madrid 2-0 up in the first half, the visitors’ resistance was increasingly meek and substitute Gonzalo Higuain headed home a third in the 73rd minute.
While the Turkish champions were well beaten they will feel aggrieved at having a strong penalty appeal denied in either half. But the lack of an away goal now surely means that the second leg in Istanbul next Tuesday will be little more than a formality.
Galatasaray manager Fatih Terim had insisted before the tie that his side would not compromise their attacking philosophy, despite Madrid’s counter-punching prowess, but within 10 minutes they were made to pay for that approach.
Benzema had already put a difficult header off target before Ronaldo struck to overtake Burak as the competition’s top scorer.
Mesut Ozil played a neat through ball that far too easily got Ronaldo inside full-back Emmanuel Eboue and the Portuguese forward was calmness personified when met with Fernando Muslera as he chipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.
Galatasaray continued to try and play on the front foot and had some success going forward, but Drogba wasted a half chance from the edge of the box, while Sneijder and Hamit Altintop fired of target from outside the area.
But the moment Galatasaray will look back upon came when they were denied a strong claim for a handball in the Madrid box. Felipe Melo’s header initially struck Sami Khedira on the arm and, while a penalty award would have been harsh in that instance the same could not be said when the ball bounced up and the Madrid midfielder brought his hand toward it as it sandwiched between him and Michael Essien.
Within a matter of moments, Galatasaray’s disappointment was magnified, as again they were made to pay for some poor defending, by a man who could easily have earlier been sent off for a head-high boot on Semih Kaya.
With Galatasaray’s narrow midfield, picked to accommodate the creative but luxurious talents of Sneijder, Essien was allowed far too much space on the right to pick out a cross. Still, Galatasaray should have cleared the danger but Eboue bizarrely ducked under the ball, allowing it to travel through to Benzema, who controlled and slid a composed finish past Muslera.
It had been a wretched first 30 minutes for Eboue and his evening got even worse when he missed a chance to redeem himself at the other end on the stroke of half time. After a one-two with Drogba, the former Arsenal man had a clear sight on goal but showed little composure as he lashed a low shot straight at Lopez, who blocked to safety.
It was at the other end where Terim had understandably been most concerned by what he saw in the opening 45 minutes, though, and he responded by bringing on Gokhan Zan for Sneijder to give his side an extra man at the back. The move, though, had a definite feel of trying to shut the door after the horse had bolted and only raised more questions over the coach's initial approach.
The switch gave Galatasaray a stronger base, but shorn of Sneijder's creativity and with Madrid now focused on not taking any risks, the visitors posed little threat going forward.
Despite the extra defender, Angel di Maria still found space through the middle of thew back line, but having been found by a fine chipped pass by Xabi Alonso, he struck a poor shot straight at Muslera.
As the half wore on the belief appeared to drain from the legs of Galatasaray’s players and the tie increasingly looked like it was there for the taking for Madrid. In truth the home side did not have to do all that much to increase their lead in the 73rd minute.
Alonso produced another fine ball, this time from a free-kick, and Higuain had far too much space in the area to meet the ball it from a standing position and direct a header into the top corner past an unmoved Muslera for his first goal in this season’s Champions League.
The remaining minutes were played out in a subdued atmosphere both on and off the pitch. Galatasaray, though, could have enlivened proceedings had referee Svein Oddvar Moen not denied them a second shout for a penalty when Sergio Ramos stood on the foot of Burak in the box to send the striker to the turf.
By that point, even Galatasaray’s penalty appeal lacked conviction as they seemingly realized that they had reached their ceiling in Europe this year.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.