Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester City (agg: 6-5)
The thing about miracles is that they are supposed to run out at some point. At Real Madrid, though, they just keep coming.
Miracle after miracle, again and again, making the extraordinary ordinary.
Just when it seemed like logic had finally triumphed over lore, Real Madrid came back from the dead again on Wednesday night, with Rodrigo resurrecting them in front of a Santiago Bernabeu crowd that thought the jig was finally up.
They had been outplayed by Paris Saint-Germain, but saved by a divine 17-minute Karim Benzema hat-trick. Outplayed by Chelsea, but rescued by a heavenly assist from Luka Modric.
And City, who outplayed Madrid at home despite the tight 4-3 scoreline, came to the Spanish capital and played a sensible, patient game, frustrating the hosts.
Pep Guardiola’s side slowed the match down, simplifying things, not allowing Real Madrid to whip up the frenzy they find joy in on big European nights.
When Madrid tried to shake things up, Riyad Mahrez sucker-punched them and put the visitors ahead on the night, two goals ahead on aggregate.
Carlo Ancelotti took off Luka Modric and threw on more forwards, at which point the game seemed over, a formality.
But then it happened again. The only formality at the Bernabeu is Madrid finding a way to survive.
Rodrygo stabbed home in the 90th minute and then planted a header into the top corner in the 91st to leave City shipwrecked and stunned, wondering how the final had been taken out of their hands when it seemed so certain.
And with City still reeling, Benzema threatened in the box and Ruben Dias clumsily brought him down for a penalty.
The striker picked himself up and stroked home – no Panenka this time – for his 15th goal of the competition, from an xG of 5.81, to put Madrid ahead for the first time in the tie: after 185 minutes and 11 goals, 3-1 up on the night, 6-5 on aggregate.
Madrid were winning a game that it seemed like they should have lost – last week, let alone this week.
Fleeing the Etihad with only a one-goal deficit was a victory of sorts and they made good on their great escape, completing the job in extra-time again.
In the minutes leading up to Rodrygo’s double, Jack Grealish had one shot hacked off the line by Ferland Mendy and another brilliantly saved by Thibaut Courtois – two moments that could and should have ended it once and for all.
Like against Chelsea in the quarter-finals, once Madrid were ahead in extra-time it rarely looked like slipping, bar one chance for Fernandinho, who threw himself at the ball at the far post but could not reach it.
Vinicius Junior has been a star for Madrid this season but his miss just after half-time looked like it might have cost them badly.
However, his Brazilian compatriot Rodrygo spared his blushes, continuing his own superb form, while Eduardo Camavinga also made a big impact from the bench – the pair have been lifesavers for Madrid in this competition.
It was also Rodrygo who sparked their 3-2 comeback against Sevilla which helped push Madrid to the title in Spain, and then he scored twice to clinch La Liga last weekend.
Carlo Ancelotti puffed jubilantly on a cigar on Saturday night as fans celebrated wildly at Cibeles, and he will have another one if Madrid can beat Liverpool in the final and win a record 14th Champions League.
“Close, but no cigar,” goes the quote. But for Real Madrid in the Champions League, it’s been close, and then a cigar.