MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid was holding on to the positives after coming close to being routed by Manchester City but staying alive in the Champions League semifinals.
Madrid lost 4-3 in the first leg in England on Tuesday, but it was one of those defeats that allowed for some celebration.
Pep Guardiola’s City had plenty of chances to put the series away but instead Madrid found a way to fight back and it goes into next week’s second leg at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium only a goal down.
“You are never happy when you lose, but we have 90 minutes ahead of us to make the difference at the Bernabéu,” said Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior, who scored one of the goals for the Spanish powerhouse.
Karim Benzema scored the others as Madrid trailed by two goals three times at Etihad Stadium.
“The next game will be different,” Vinícius said. “I’m really happy with the team’s attitude. We were 2-0 down against an extremely good team and we come away with our heads held high and ready to put in a good performance in the return leg.”
Madrid just won’t go away this season, having already rallied in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and against defending champion Chelsea in the quarterfinals.
Madrid knows it will have to do better than it did Tuesday, though, to reach its first Champions League final since winning its last title in 2018.
“We have to stay calm and improve our performance if we want to advance,” Vinícius said. “We have to improve pretty much in all areas and start the game better so we don’t concede early goals that make it difficult for us to recover.”
Madrid was losing 2-0 by the 11th minute on Tuesday, and coach Carlo Ancelotti said the team will have to defend better next week.
“We started the game very poorly. We were too soft,” he said. “It’ll be really important to improve defensively in the return leg. I have a very experienced team that keeps its cool when things get tough. These players have been in many games like this and never give in. They always keep their heads up.”
Ancelotti said he doesn’t expect another back-and-forth match like the first leg, when both teams had significant chances.
“It’ll be a different match,” he said. “City has the advantage and you have to take that into account. I hope that our fans demand a better performance from us so we can reach the final. Our fans have to be ready because we are going to fight to make it another magical night.”
Madrid is hoping for a third straight Champions League comeback at the Bernabéu to remain in contention for a record-extending 14th European title.
Against PSG, it needed a second-half hat trick by Benzema after losing the first leg 1-0 and conceding a goal early in the return match. Then, it was down 3-0 at home in the second leg against Chelsea when it scored twice to recover, including in extra time, to advance on a 5-4 aggregate score. The decisive goal was scored by Benzema, who is having his best season and now is the Champions League’s leading scorer with 14 goals.
“Miracle after miracle,” said the front-page headline of the Marca sports daily on Wednesday. “Madrid stays alive in Manchester and it will all come down to the Bernabéu.”
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