Real Madrid’s pursuit of la decima, a 10th European Cup, continues to gather pace. They were far too intelligent and potent on the counter-attack for Fatih Terim’s Galatasaray, who were far too disorganised defensively.
Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, inevitably, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín put Madrid in total charge of this tie.
“Knowing the mentality of Turkey and Fatih, they will do all they can to get through and do something historic,’’ said Real’s coach, Jose Mourinho.
“They need a miracle but there are miracles in football. The history of football is full of miracles, so why can’t they dream of a miracle. I have enough experience to understand that we have a very good result but it is not over and I will try everything in my hands to persuade my players that it is not over.”
Terim himself agreed “we need a miracle” and pointed out “there is a big difference in the quality of the players’’ of the respective teams. Yet Real will be without two important players next week.
As the game closed, both Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were cautioned, triggering bans for the visit to Istanbul. This means there is no risk of their missing the semi-final which Real are surely destined to reach now.
Conspiracy theorists will remember that Alonso and Ramos were sent off late on against Ajax in 2010, ruling them out of a final group-stage game against Auxerre with Real having already won the group.
Mourinho insisted that the bookings were not deliberate, claiming that the yellows “complicate my plans a bit for the second leg. When I saw the cards, what I had been thinking about fell apart”.
Yet Pepe can come into midfield or alongside Raphaël Varane, the teenaged French centre-half of limitless potential who was outstanding in subduing Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz.
As well as Varane, Mesut Özil and Alonso were superb. Özil, the son of Turkish gastarbeiters in Germany, was darting all over, dribbling the ball into dangerous areas, creating Ronaldo’s opener.
Alonso was a force in closing down Galatasaray attacks, and launching Real’s, playing a part in two of the goals. Alonso has signalled he will leave the club when his contract expires in 2014. Real would be insane to allow him to go in the light of this sort of display.
Alonso immediately imposed himself, sweeping forward the ball that led to Real’s opener.
Özil and Benzema joined in, Ozil took the ball on before sliding it left-footed between Emmanuel Eboué and Semih Kaya for Ronaldo. He controlled the ball with his right and then lifted it effortlessly over Fernando Muslera for his 18th goal in 16 Champions League games. Lionel Messi scores one night, Ronaldo responds. It’s the rhythm of modern football.
Galatasaray tried to equalise, and Drogba tested Diego Lopez but they were so vulnerable to the sort of precise, quick counter-attacks that Madrid specialise in under Mourinho.
The coach’s decisions were all working out. Having selected Michael Essien ahead of Alvaro Arbeloa, Mourinho was rewarded when Essien crossed from the right, Eboué failed to get close to Benzema, who scored.
The Turkish fans were quietened momentarily, before sounding the drums again and lighting eight flares.
Madrid were in control, comfortably withstanding occasional Galatasaray attacks. When Drogba crossed, Burak Yilmaz shot wide.
Eboué shot straight at Diego Lopez. Even when Galatasaray threatened, Varane was on hand to shepherd the ball away or Alonso and Sami Khedira were back covering. When Drogba did threaten down the left, he was accidentally knocked over, staying down for a few seconds. One Real fan in particular targeted Drogba with some particularly vile abuse. It was a depressing reminder of the problems still besetting football in the 21st century.
At half-time, there was the remarkable sight of the Galatasaray centre-half Dany Nounkeu swapping shirts with Benzema as they walked to the tunnel. Terim made a change, withdrawing the anonymous Wesley Sneijder, sending on Gokhan Zan and realigning the team as 3-5-2.
“It looks like a defensive change,’’ said Mourinho, “but I think it’s offensive because (Albert) Riera and Eboué (the full-backs) play further forward and Drogba gets closer to Ramos and Varane. They did everything to try to get a different result.” Real remained in charge.
Even when Galatasaray worked the ball towards Drogba, the excellent Varane intervened. Real went looking for a third to give them greater security in Istanbul. Muslera saved shots from Ronaldo and then Di Maria. Galatasaray appealed loudly for a penalty when Ramos fouled Yilmaz and it looked a legitimate claim.