If Jose Mourinho is to become the first manager to win three European Cups with different clubs, he will have to overcome one half of Madrid on Wednesday night and then face the only team who counted him a failure.
Three times, Mourinho took Real Madrid to the semi-finals and three times he fell. The second of those semi-finals, against Bayern Munich, was decided by a penalty shoot-out that finished with Sergio Ramos blazing his kick into the Madrid sky.
Now, it was Ramos’s wildly improbable goals that put them achingly close to their 10th European Cup. Since Zinedine Zidane’s glorious volley against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park in 2002, Real have dreamt of La Decima. Now they can smell the Brasso.
Pep Guardiola would have yearned for a fitting tribute to his dead friend Tito Vilanova. Instead they were swept aside as brutally as the Barcelona side that Guardiola bequeathed to Vilanova had been by Bayern in last year’s semi-finals.
All the talk had been about putting an end to tiki-taka and seizing Madrid by the throat. However, asking a Guardiola side to pump balls into the box is rather like asking Noel Coward to sing punk rock.
Bayern seemed not to know what they were supposed to do and as Cristiano Ronaldo drove his free-kick for Madrid’s fourth under the feet of Dante – setting a record for the most goals in a Champions League campaign with his 16th – the side that was supposed to be the best in the world could not even set up a competent wall.
The teams entered the arena through an arch proclaiming this to be the final stop on the road to Lisbon. The loudspeakers were blaring out ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” to emphasise the predictions of Bayern’s chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, that Munich would be turned into an inferno for Real Madrid.
“The trees will burn,” Rummenigge had forecast with more than a touch of melodrama. By the interval it was Guardiola’s philosophy and Bayern’s hold on the European Cup that were ash.
Guardiola’s only response at half-time was to remove his centre-forward Mario Mandzukic for a holding midfielder in Javier Martinez. He did not dream of scoring five times in 45 minutes, he just wanted the nightmare to stop.
The theatre of turning all four sides of the Allianz Arena into a montage of images was the kind of grand choreography Bayern never replicated on the pitch.
It was reminiscent of the scenes before the European Cup final here two years before when all the ceremony simply added to the already stifling expectations that Bayern were predestined to win the trophy in their own stadium.
Before this contest was 20 minutes old, their fans were throwing the cards that had made up the montage at Ramos as he celebrated Madrid’s second goal by the corner flag.
When Rummenigge had predicted that the trees of Bavaria would be set aflame, he would have known that there is only so much any crowd can do – otherwise Galatasaray would be for ever European champions and Newcastle United would be leading the Premier League by a dozen points. It was not as if this Real Madrid side had never set foot in the Nou Camp before.
By the time Franck Ribéry loosed off Bayern’s first serious shot of the night, Real were already two goals up and the Germans required four. That their executioner was Ramos would only have added to the sense of disbelief.
In his previous 73 Champions League appearances, the centre-half had scored precisely five goals. Here, in what was supposed to be a contest between the biggest beasts in European football, he was on a hat-trick with 70 minutes to go. That both his goals came from set pieces would have been the sharpest and coldest of the many daggers that pierced Guardiola’s heart.
The first came from a corner delivered by Luka Modric that Ronaldo leapt beautifully to meet but not quite as well as Ramos. The header brushed the sleeve of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer before striking the net.
Against Manchester United in the quarter-finals, Bayern had gone behind home and away before shifting gears like a Porsche on an Autobahn. Madrid, however, are a rather different side and within five minutes the game was up and the dream was over.
This time it was a free-kick from Angel di Maria that was flicked on by Pepe and met with a diving header from Ramos, who ran over to taunt the red wall in front of him, dissolving into a vast grin at the unlikeliness of it all.
Ramos, who was one booking away from a suspension, then appeared to do his best to get himself banned for the final he had done so much to qualify Real for. He had already got himself mixed up in a confrontation with Mandzukic and then launched himself into a reckless tackle on Philipp Lahm. Xabi Alonso was, however, not so fortunate and will miss the final.
Bayern were by then falling hopelessly apart. From the start, Neuer had appeared wound up by the occasion, twice sprinting out of his goal to make clearances that presented first Gareth Bale and then Ronaldo with opportunities to score from 40 yards.
Ronaldo was far closer when he scored Madrid’s third, although the credit for the goal was all Bale’s. Put through by Karim Benzema and pursued by Jérôme Boateng, he delayed his pass perfectly and Ronaldo, who was at Madrid for all of their failed semi-finals, could see the final that his club crave opening up before him.
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