So near yet so far as La Decima disappears for another year for Madrid

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

La Decima will have to wait another year for Real Madrid.

A 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabeu was not enough to prevent Los Blancos, and Jose Mourinho, crashing out of the Champions League at the semifinal hurdle for the third year running, with a 4-3 defeat on aggregate.

It was so near, yet so far. Remontada (comeback, in English) was the buzz word in the build up to the match in the Spanish capital but the it only really started with seven minutes to go. By then it was too little, too late.

- Delaney: Frantic finale fitting for Dortmund
- Mourinho hints at Chelsea return
- Press Pass: Dortmund seal Wembley date
- Video: Dortmund delight as Madrid bow out


It almost seemed too little, too late at kickoff with Dortmund, unbeaten in the competition coming into the game, holding a 4-1 lead. You felt the damage had already been done in the first leg and the Germans carried the extra card of having visited the Bernabeu earlier in the campaign and leaving with a 2-2 draw.

To get a round of applause from Madridistas after what was essentially a defeat, however, must have seen Los Blancos do something right. That is a rare sight as far as Real Madrid, a club that feeds off winning, is concerned.

Madrid inflicted a first defeat on Dortmund in the competition this year and came just a goal away from one of the most famous comebacks in the club's illustrious history. The home fans, who created a good atmosphere throughout, appreciated their side's effort in defeat.

With the score tied at 0-0 with less than 10 minutes to go, Karim Benzema blasted home a Mesut Ozil cross pass from close range to give the hosts a glimmer of hope.

That glimmer became a real chance five minutes later when Sergio Ramos did what many of Madrid's attackers couldn't, producing a powerful finish to leave his side just one goal away from a trip to Wembley.

It prompted a huge, and rare, cauldron of noise inside the Bernabeu for the final minutes but, despite Ramos heading another good chance inches wide in added time, Madrid could not complete their comeback and the sea of black and yellow tucked high up in the top tier of the stadium was left to ponder tapas and beer long into the Madrid night.

It was a good, battling effort from Madrid, a far cry from the performance in Germany a week earlier. A performance that Mourinho likened to that of a friendly match. There was nothing friendly in Madrid's approach to the second leg.

The start was breathtaking. Madrid dominated and created chance after chance but those chances, frustratingly for the hosts, did not end up in the back of the net. Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil were the parties guilty of not giving Los Blancos an early lead.

Rewind a year when Madrid, albeit chasing a lesser disadvantage against Bayern Munich, scored twice inside the first 14 minutes through Ronaldo. Madrid could have done with much of the same against more Bundesliga opposition. It didn't arrive. Ronaldo didn't arrive.

If one of those early chances had nestled into the back of the net it could have been a different game. What if.

They didn't and, to their credit, Dortmund were impressive in weathering the storm, riding their luck somewhat, and building their way into the game. Mourinho's men could not keep that early intensity up. They needed an early goal but didn't get it.

As Jurgen Klopp insisted before the match, his men did not arrive at the Bernabeu to park the bus. They too had their chances and, although Madrid missed some guilt-edged ones, Dortmund did too -- mainly through Robert Lewandowski. As much as the hosts could have taken an early lead, the Germans could have bagged a crucial away goal.

The fact Madrid tried to "rough up" Dortmund's Polish goal threat may well have been a reason for him being off-target throughout the match. Mourinho complained that his men did not foul Lewandowski once in Dortmund as he netted all four goals. This time Madrid, or should that be Ramos, made up for it. Fabio Coentrao joined in, too.

With those 20 minutes of pressure over for Madrid, the belief in those in white seemed to dwindle, while the men in yellow and black grew in stature.

Cristiano Ronaldo failed to show up. Ozil, his assist for Benzema's goal aside, struggled as he did in Germany and Higuain was off-form in front of goal. Xabi Alonso, Madrid's usual man to pull the strings, did not look his usual self. Madrid are not used to chasing down such a deficit, and it showed.

In contrast, Luka Modric, with plenty more space thanks to Dortmund's more careful watch on Alonso and Ronaldo, had one of his better games since arriving in the Spanish capital and seemed the man most likely to create something. Mourinho's decision to play the Croatian alongside the more tried and tested Sami Khedira seemed to be the right one.

Madrid could not repeat their intense start to the first half at the start of the second and it needed a desperate change from the Special One with the introduction of Kaka and Benzema, almost lining up with a 3-2-3-2 formation. It knocked Madrid off their stride somewhat as the match ticked on but the desperate measures almost paid off late on.

Ultimately it wasn't to be, and over the two legs Dortmund deserved their progression to Wembley and a probable all-German final against Bayern Munich.

It will probably be Mourinho's last attempt to win La Decima. Most expect the Portuguese to leave the Spanish capital come the end of the season, and he said as much in an interview with English TV after the match. But the Special One wanted to leave through the Bernabeu's front door with his head held high thanks to another famous Champions League triumph.

Madrid, and Mourinho, will be left to reflect on another semifinal slump in Europe. La Decima will rear its head again come the start of next season, but the likelihood is that another man will be leading the way.

ESPN Conversations