“The history of this club helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone.” Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti might well be right.
Not for the first time this season his side appeared to be ‘gone’ from this season’s Champions League.
But for the third time the 13-time winners came back from the precipice.
This time they were 5-3 down to Manchester City on aggregate in the final minute without having had a shot on target all game.
Then substitute Rodrygo scored twice in 90 seconds and Karim Benzema netted the extra-time winner from the spot to send Real into the final against Liverpool.
“What a game of football. It’s probably the best I have ever seen,” said former Real defender Jonathan Woodgate, watching at a raucous Bernabeu for BBC Radio 5 Live.
If Rodrygo scoring a late aggregate equaliser against an English side and Benzema netting the extra-time winner sounds familiar, it should. That is what happened against European champions Chelsea in the quarter-final.
In the last 16, they trailed Paris St-Germain 2-0 on aggregate with half an hour to go. Benzema scored a 17-minute hat-trick to settle that one.
In the group stages they lost to Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol and only clinched top spot in the final round of games.
Real are now aiming for their 14th European Cup when they face Liverpool in Paris on 28 May. That would be twice as many as any other team.
Ancelotti, who becomes the first manager to reach five Champions League finals, said: “I cannot say we are used to living this kind of life, but what happened tonight happened against Chelsea and also against Paris.
“If you have to say why, it is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone.
“The game was close to finished and we managed to find the last energy we had. We played a good game against a strong rival. When we were able to equalise, we had a psychological advantage in extra time.”
Rodrygo, who scored from a Benzema cross before heading in to make it 5-5 on aggregate, said: “We were losing the match, we were dead and what happened happened.
“With this shirt, we learn to always fight to the end. We were almost dead but with my first goal we started to believe.”
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Former England defender Woodgate, who played 14 times for Real in 2005-06, said: “You could not write it.
“Phenomenal football by Real Madrid and City had no comeback. This stadium, these players, they never know when they are beaten. They just keep going right until the end.
“At 80 minutes we thought ‘game over’ – not this crowd, not this team.”
Real’s last Champions League success came in 2018, when they beat Liverpool 3-1 in an incident-packed final in Kyiv.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, speaking on BT Sport, said: “I don’t think I have ever seen a run to the final so topsy-turvy for a team.
“Moments when you think they are out, betting against them at every single junction and they come and override it.”
Steve McManaman, who played for both teams and finalists Liverpool, said: “I was dumbstruck up there. The 90th minute, no attempts on target, Manchester City cruising through and then that happened.
“For them to go on and win, it beggars belief after what we saw against PSG, what we saw against Chelsea. For them to do it tonight when they were out for it and get the result is an incredible feat.”
It caps a great week for Real, who wrapped up the La Liga title with a 4-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday.
Real midfielder Federico Valverde called it “another mad night”.
“When City scored, it felt like everything was falling apart – all that effort and fight in every round, it felt lost,” the Uruguayan said.
“But the fans were a big help for us to keep fighting to the end. When the goals go in, you think ‘we’re going to win today’.”
This is just the latest thriller in recent years of a Champions League that rarely disappoints.
The first leg – which ended 4-3 to City at Etihad Stadium – was considered one of the best games in the tournament’s history. The second-leg finale puts it up there with the great ties.
In 2019 Tottenham beat City on away goals (4-4 on aggregate) in the quarter-finals, with Raheem Sterling having a late, late winner ruled out by the VAR after City had celebrated wildly.
Spurs also benefited from a thriller in the next round as Lucas Moura’s 96th-minute goal for a hat-trick took them past Ajax.
Barcelona have been involved in three of the very best ties, experiencing both emotions.
In the 2017 first knockout round they lost 4-0 in the first leg to PSG but won 6-1 at home, including three goals from the 88th minute onwards.
But in 2018 they blew a 4-1 first-leg lead to lose to Roma on away goals and the following year lost 4-0 at Liverpool after winning the first leg 3-0.
Also in 2019, Marcus Rashford’s stoppage-time penalty helped Manchester United come back against PSG and help get Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the job.
McManaman thinks this might be the best story yet if Real go on to win the trophy.
“If they do beat Liverpool in the final, to go through PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City, I think it would be the greatest victory ever,” he said.