Two Spanish clubs. Contrasting histories in soccer. The same magical Champions League night.
Two Spanish clubs. Contrasting histories in soccer. The same magical Champions League night. Real Madrid and Villarreal both found a way to advance to the semifinals of the European competition on Tuesday, with powerhouse Madrid surviving a comeback by defending champion Chelsea and modest Villarreal fending off German giant Bayern Munich. There was drama in both matches as Madrid needed a goal in extra time from Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and Villarreal an 88th-minute strike by Samuel Chukwueze in Munich. Madrid lost 3-2 but advanced on aggregate after winning the first leg in England 3-1. Villarreal’s 1-1 draw was enough after it had won 1-0 at home in the first match. “We have to be proud of what we have achieved. We had a very difficult round of 16 against Paris Saint-Germain and now again against Chelsea, so we are happy to make it to the semifinals,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “And we are very happy for Villarreal as well. It’s a great boost for Spanish soccer after many people said it wasn’t at the same level of English soccer. Now we already have two Spanish clubs in the semifinals.”
Madrid, a record 13-time European champion, is in the semifinals for the 10th time in 12 seasons. Villarreal, which won the Europa League last season for its first major title, is in the last four for the first time in 16 years. Although Madrid is one of the biggest teams in the world, it already had a close call in the last 16 against PSG. The team was saved by a second-half hat trick from Benzema in a 3-1 victory after it had lost 1-0 in Paris and conceded early in the second leg at the Bernabéu. Villarreal, based in a city of 50,000 people in southern Spain, had stunned Juventus in the round of 16 with a 3-0 win in Italy after a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home. While Ancelotti is a three-time Champions League winner, Villarreal is coached by Unai Emery, who has thrived in the Europa League but until this season had never made it past the last 16 in the Champions League. “We are going to enjoy the semifinals,” Emery said. “And not because people will say we are cool or nice or from a small city, but because we have a project and we have succeeded so far.”
Emery and some of his players hinted they had been upset after Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann reportedly said he wanted Bayern to seal its spot in the last four in the first leg in Villarreal, when the six-time European champions were outplayed for most of the match. “I think there was a lack of respect by their coach toward us,” Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo said after Tuesday’s match. Villarreal made it to the Champions League semifinals for the first time in 2006, when it lost to Arsenal. The team hadn’t been in the quarterfinals since 2009, when it also was eliminated by Arsenal. The club is currently in seventh place in the Spanish league, a competition it has never won. Madrid, the current Spanish league leader, played in the Champions League semifinals eight straight seasons before consecutive round-of-16 eliminations in 2018 and 2019. It won three consecutive European titles from 2016-18. Madrid was eliminated by Chelsea in last year’s semifinals. “You don’t play with the king,” said the mosaic behind one of the goals at the Bernabéu on Tuesday. “Once again,” Ancelotti said, “the magic of this stadium, the magic of Real Madrid, helped us stay alive.”