REAL Madridâ€™s worst fears were confirmed on Wednesday when they exited the Champions League at the first knockout round for the fourth year in succession.
The nine-times champions were ruthlessly exposed by a high-quality Roma side who beat them 2-1 at the Bernabeu, completing a 4-2 aggregate victory that will have major repercussions at a club that measures success in terms of European trophies.
“We didnâ€™t have that magic weâ€™ve shown on other nights,” said skipper Raul, whose 61st Champions League goal was to no avail.
“Itâ€™s a very heavy blow, a really big disappointment because the Champions League was one of our big objectives this season and now we are out of it.
“We were the better side in the first leg, but we came back with a very dangerous result and we werenâ€™t able to impose ourselves on opponents who showed themselves to be a very good team. We struggled to create any scoring chances.”
Real were simply not as sharp, as hungry or as skilful as Roma and although they can point to the sending off of Portugal centre-back Pepe as the turning point in the tie, the defeat revealed more serious weaknesses.
The absence of leading striker Ruud van Nistelrooy through injury exposed the teamâ€™s lack of alternatives up front, while the midfield once again looked short of pace and ideas.
At the back Pepe gave further evidence of poor judgement in picking up two needless bookings, while his fellow defenders struggled to deal with Romaâ€™s sharp passing and running off the ball.
“We lacked intensity and tension, maybe because we were worried about their counter-attacks,” said centre-back Fabio Cannavaro.
“We werenâ€™t direct enough and we didnâ€™t win back the ball enough.”
Only two weeks ago, club president Ramon Calderon was talking up his sideâ€™s chances of a European and domestic double, saying that the squad was the “best in the world” and the team was “playing like a machine”. On Wednesday night he was forced to change his tune.
“This is clearly a failure,” he said. “When the season ends we will have to sit down and analyse the situation and if there are chances of strengthening the squad we will take them.”
Out of the Kingâ€™s Cup and out of Europe, Realâ€™s only hope of silverware lies in the league, where they are still five points clear at the top, but the teamâ€™s recent form suggests that even that goal could be under threat.
Fabio Capello was sacked after delivering the league title and nothing else. Bernd Schuster can now do no better than the Italian. â€” Reuters.