Real Madrid will play Liverpool in the Champions League final after Karim Benzema’s extra-time penalty completed a remarkable 3-1 comeback win over Manchester City.
Leading 4-3 from a pulsating first leg, Pep Guardiola’s side appeared set for a second successive final appearance when Riyad Mahrez put them ahead in the 73rd minute at Santiago Bernabeu, but comeback kings Madrid sealed their place in Paris with a 6-5 aggregate triumph.
Substitute Rodrygo was their inspiration, as he became the first player to score twice in the 90th minute of a Champions League knockout match to force extra-time.
And Benzema wrapped up a magnificent turnaround for Carlo Ancelotti’s LaLiga champions when, five minutes into extra-time.
City carried the greater threat in the first half, Thibaut Courtois making a brilliant stop from Bernardo Silva before denying Phil Foden just prior to the interval.
Madrid should have taken the lead early in the second half, yet Vinicius Junior was unable to convert Dani Carvajal’s cross at the far post.
But City had shown more control and the lead was theirs when Mahrez arrowed a brilliant first-time finish beyond Courtois.
City’s progression seemed secure, and Madrid appeared down and out when Jack Grealish burst through only to see a strike cleared off the line before Courtois then denied the £100million man moments later.
Yet Madrid do not know when they are beaten. Rodrygo stole in to turn home Benzema’s square ball and, 91 seconds later, planted a wonderful header into the top-left corner.
The most remarkable of turnarounds was complete when Benzema calmly sent Ederson the wrong way from 12 yards after he was fouled by Ruben Dias in the box, with Fernandinho missing a glorious chance to prod in an equaliser as Madrid set up a meeting with Liverpool on May 28.
What does it mean? Madrid’s comebacks know no bounds
It felt unlikely that Madrid would ever better their last-16 comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, but then they mustered a similarly decisive effort against Chelsea. And when they seemed down and out, Ancelotti’s side hit back with a comeback that might just trump them all.
Madrid progressed from what was only the third Champions League semi-final to see 10 or more goals across both legs. It is also the first time in six attempts that Los Blancos have prevailed from a semi-final tie in this competition after losing the first leg.
City, meanwhile, must now regroup and go again. They have four Premier League matches left, and Liverpool breathing down their neck.
Benzema does it again
Just like in the last 16 and quarter-finals, Benzema was the matchwinner for Madrid with his calm penalty settling the tie.
The skipper netted his 10th goal in this season’s Champions League knockout stages; becoming the first player to reach double figures in a single campaign since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016-17. He is also only the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-final and semi-final in this competition during the same season.
May the fourth be with Mahrez
Exactly a year to the day since his brace saw off Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-final second leg, Mahrez was on target once more for City.
It took his tally for the campaign to 24 goals in all competitions, with Mohamed Salah (30) the only player to manage more for a Premier League team in 2021-22. But the Algeria international would surely gladly give that statistic away if it meant his strike had proved the winner, as seemed set to be the case.
Key Opta Facts
– Madrid have reached their 17th European Cup/Champions League final, six more than any other team. It is their first since 2018, when they beat Liverpool 3-1.
– There were 11 goals across the two legs of this tie, the second-most of any two-legged semi-final tie in Champions League history, behind only Liverpool 7-6 Roma in 2017-18.
– City boss Pep Guardiola has now suffered six eliminations at the semi-final stage of the UEFA Champions League (also 2009-10 and 2011-12 with Barcelona, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 with Bayern Munich), the joint-most of any manager along with Jose Mourinho.
– Ancelotti has reached his fifth Champions League final (2003, 2005 and 2007 with Milan, 2014 and 2022 with Madrid), the most of any manager in the competition’s history.
– Since 2003-04 when the last 16 was introduced, Madrid are the first team to lose a match in the last 16 (0-1 vs PSG), quarter-final (2-3 vs Chelsea) and semi-final (3-4 vs City) in a season and still reach the Champions League final.
– Benzema has scored seven Champions League goals against English teams this season, the most by a player in a single campaign in the competition’s history.
Both teams return to action on Saturday. City look to respond as they resume their Premier League title charge against Newcastle United, while Los Blancos face Atletico Madrid in the derby.