Magic wins control while Guardiola suffers in Madrid’s enchanted canyon Champions League

Wwhen the moment came, Daniele Orsato seemed to hit like a burst of static energy. The judge was phlegmatic at the Bernabéu. He shrugged. He ran. But this place does something for you. As Karim Benzema fell, his ankle struck by Rúben Diaz’s step, even before his body hit the lawn, Orsat’s hand erupted from his side, erect, obsessed with the voodoo of another of these absurd electric storms, these nights of white noise, white light, where nothing is done until it is done.

Benzema stepped up and rolled the penalty into an empty corner of the net, ran to the audience and began clapping his hands, extending his hand, like a mad pope. And so it happened. After 89 minutes and 40 seconds of this semi-final rematch, Real Madrid was on the way out Champions League in a sick way, pushed to the edge of things by a City team that was more efficient, more coherent.

After 95 minutes they were 3-1 in the evening and the Bernabéu hovered from his anchorages, squirming, singing within himself, high on that royal will to power.

What to make of all this? There were many myths around the Bernabéu on this ride. This is a magical place. Scary place. Enchanted canyon. A place where witches walk the sky above throwing dark magic.

And there was the usual white noise and white light at the beginning, those bulging ends creating a kind of noise funnel effect, dissolving into a whistle of whistles as Josep Guardiola’s name appeared on one of the screens. They hate Pep here. He represents, well, all of that. Catalanism, Messiahism, classical hatred, other people succeed.

After that, it seemed that the Madridians were just sitting and waiting for their moment, trying to reduce the game to something less, a moment that could be grabbed. They trampled water. They watched City pass the ball. It took Kevin De Bruyne four minutes to start his first sequence, turn away from Casemir and make a beautiful movie passage for Gabriel Jesus. After that, City continued to open the cold tap, forcing those crowded, anxious grandstands to watch them pass the ball in their neat little triangles and hexagons, confirming their own careful rhythms.

Guardiola regrets the late missed opportunities after City’s exit from the Champions League – video

Madrid had one tactic in the first 25 minutes. Give it to Vinnie. Watch him go. About 40 minutes into the match, the counterattack resulted in a counterattack that set Jack Charlton free through the middle, but the keeper made a spectacular diving save. Vinícius Júnior was absent – and then he was not. Kyle Walker’s sprint was a complete hit. The fight was perfectly timed. It seemed like it might happen. Maybe this is a story now? Except you somehow knew it wasn’t. The halftime led to a whistle, throwing his hands in the air and shrugging his shoulders in frustration around the stands.

City looked like a version of City that wasn’t exactly City. But Madrid’s midfield was still surpassed and surpassed. Does it matter? Now 36 years old, Luka Modrić is just hanging around and waiting for his day to come. Tony Kroos spent most of the game looking bloated, rosy and sweaty, like Dad in a fun race. But Kroos is also part of the myth, the notion that a midfield can be drawn with a player who is so sluggish and regal. Yes, this is us. And this is how we will beat you. After 17 minutes of play, the free-spirited Riyad Mahrez decided to go for goal as he struck the ball from the corner of the pitch. City now had two goals more. Was that it? Is this done?

Carlo Ancelotti appeared on his line, shrugging and shuffling, and resembling, as always, a Renaissance archduke riding into battle in an evening gown and smoking a cheroot. Rodrygo came in. That end point began to approach. And gradually the City began to thicken.

There were moments in this competition when this team seemed fragile. As if playing football is a formal exercise, something learned, studied and reproduced. There is a team of beautiful movements, precision, passion. But sometimes in those games it helps to play through the fog, to play red instead of blue, hot and not cold, as they did in the first game. They had a chance to kill this tie, especially Jack Grealish twice after his death.

The strangest thing was that there was no accumulation. This was not coming. The earth did not shake. The air did not crackle. There was no sound of footsteps approaching through the woods. Instead of spinning through the speed at the Bernabéu, Real Madrid did something else, scoring twice in 84 seconds immediately after death, both from Rodrygo.

Then came that penalty and the last half hour that felt, somehow, like a winning circle, a statement of will. It’s been six seasons since Guardiola first led City into this competition. Every outing hurts. As he came out, with pointed legs, all in black, to shake hands and face these tumultuous stops, with a sharp wave of noise, it was impossible not to feel the pathos of the moment. The cities here were simply overwhelmed, the masters of control beaten by another moment of energy, light, magic, whatever.

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