Manchester City just couldn’t shake off a stubborn Real Madrid in a wild 4-3 Champions League encounter, after which the hosts will wonder just how the record 13-time champions were still in their semi-final tie.
Ultimately, Karim Benzema’s cheeky “Panenka” penalty in the 82nd minute allowed Madrid to escape with some hope of pulling off a comeback in next week’s second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
City were 2-0 ahead after 11 minutes at the Etihad Stadium — through goals by Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus — and should have been further clear before Benzema steered in a volley off the post in the 33rd.
Phil Foden restored City’s two-goal lead in the 53rd, Vinicius Junior replied two minutes later for Madrid with a brilliant solo effort, and the chances kept coming for both teams before Bernardo Silva smacked a shot inside the near post when the referee played the advantage after a foul on Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Benzema had the final say on the night by converting a penalty after Aymeric Laporte’s handball to become the competition’s top scorer on 14 goals and continue the best scoring form of his career, with 40 in all competitions this season.
City boss Pep Guardiola felt his team had given their all in a “fantastic game for both sides”.
“We are so proud (of the performance) but this is about reaching the final, and these things happen sometimes in football,” he said on BT Sport.
“All we can do is perform like we performed.”
De Bruyne’ opened the scoring after barely 90 seconds when he stooped to head in, via his left shoulder, an in-swinging cross by Riyad Mahrez.
Then Jesus turned David Alaba with ease and slipped home a finish in a breathtaking opening for City.
Benzema halved the deficit when he got on the end of a Ferland Mendy cross.
City re-established their two-goal lead in the 53rd when Foden headed home a cross from Fernandinho, the 36-year-old club captain who came on at right back for the injured John Stones.
Back came Madrid, with Vinicius turning Fernandinho near the half-way line and sprinting down the left before cutting in and placing a shot beyond Ederson.
Bernardo responded with a brilliant finish from the edge of the box in the 74th only for Laporte to give away a needless penalty when a free-kick struck his flailing arm.
Benzema kept his composure from 12 yards to score again and give Madrid renewed hope of reaching a first final since 2018.
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti admitted his side were second best but maintained belief of a turnaround at home.
“This team and players are able to not lose their minds when the situation is not good … Now we have a great dream to play the second game in the Bernabeu and we hope we can have a chance to go to the final,” he said on BT Sport.
Liverpool host Villarreal at Anfield on Wednesday night in the first leg of the other semi-final.
with Reuters and PA