Not since the days of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and Raul have Real Madrid been in a Champions League final, but they will finally get a dig at La Decima in Lisbon next month after a scintillating first-half performance blasted Bayern Munich out of sight on Tuesday.
The second leg of their semi-final clash at Allianz Arena was poised to be a tight affair, but Madrid had very different ideas. The 4-0 win which rounded off a 5-0 aggregate triumph was completely and utterly deserved, and served as a warning that this is a side primed for the grandest of successes come May 24.
All of the pre-match talk suggested that the Blancos only needed one goal to make it mission impossible for Bayern. They got it in the 16th minute, when Luka Modric’s right-wing corner was headed precisely home by the unmarked Sergio Ramos.
The centre-back killed the tie with a second just four minutes later from an Angel Di Maria free kick with Bayern’s defence again going missing, and barely half an hour had passed by the time Cristiano Ronaldo took Gareth Bale’s pass and fired home to cap a magnificent counterattack which summed up a wonderful first half for the Spanish side.
Ronaldo's low free kick finished the job in the 90th minute just to rub salt into the wounds but, if anything, Madrid could have had many more. They completely outplayed Bayern in every department. The Bavarians’ players had been busy patting each other on the back for dominating possession in the first leg at the Bernabeu last week when they should have been wondering why on earth they didn’t put more effort into snatching at least one away goal.
Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, would have been thanking his players for their demonstration of disciplined concentration and promising to free them from the shackles in the return, using their counterattacking potency to exploit the greater spaces Bayern were bound to leave in behind.
“With players like Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo it is more difficult to play possession football, we must look for spaces, and play the ball forward more quickly,” said Carletto before the match. “Football is nice for that, as everyone has their own ideas.”
The Italian’s idea was to play to his team’s strengths, and it capped off a masterpiece two-legged tactical plan. They not only played the perfect home leg, they followed it with the classic away-game performance.
That ability to tailor their approach to the opponent and the occasion will stand them in very good stead regardless of whether it is Chelsea or city rivals Atletico Madrid they will face in Lisbon next month. They also have the boost of seeing some of their key players hitting form at exactly the right time.
Sergio Ramos may have scored two goals, but he also turned in an accomplished performance at the back. Even with a 4-0 aggregate lead, he was throwing himself in front of every ball. Such a competitive nature has often seen him fall foul of referees, but his night was not about to be ruined this time.
Alongside him, Pepe was equally vital to the win, while the togetherness of the entire XI was a delight to see. Despite picking up a suspension after a needless tackle with the tie over, Xabi Alonso was among those putting in a breathless shift.
Up against a Bayern side that looked odds-on to become the first back-to-back Champions League winners as little as five weeks ago, Madrid have shown that they can play any type of game and against even the toughest of opponents.
Real Madrid have never looked more ready to end the 12-year wait for La Decima.