MANCHESTER CITY’S Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring the equaliser during the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.—Reuters
MANCHESTER CITY’S Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring the equaliser during the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.—Reuters

MADRID: For once Manchester City goal monster Erling Haaland was shackled, but when his side needed a moment of magic the old reliable Kevin De Bruyne conjured it against Real Madrid in an absorbing Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday.

The 31-year-old De Bru­yne, like the rest of City’s high-quality collection of internationals, has been outshone by Haaland’s record-shredding first season in England.

Norwegian powerhouse Haaland has netted 51 goals in all competitions but he found Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger and David Alaba a little less accommodating than the Premier League centre backs he has bullied mercilessly all season.

He was kept relatively quiet, with Alaba denying him with one sensational covering tackle, but De Bruyne popped up to make sure City emerged from the Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw.

With Real looking comfortable and threatening to add to the lead given to them by a Vinicius Jr wonder strike from distance in the 36th minute, De Bruyne showed again why he rema­ins so indispensable for City as they seek to finally win the Champions League and perhaps a treble.

His shot from outside the area was a thing of beauty, the ball rising no more than a foot off the turf as it streaked like a missile through the Madrid air and past Thibaut Courtois in 67th minute.

“Kevin is a massive player for us. Always he has been great and he helped us in the moment we most needed it,” City midfielder Rodri said of the Belgium talisman who has been a key component in four Premier League winning teams. “We were suffering a bit because they were keeping the ball and with the goal he gave us the confidence to keep pushing.”

De Bruyne’s 14th Cham­pions League goal for City means he is the first player in Champions League history to score in separate away games against Real in the knockout rounds.

It also swung the tie in favour of Pep Guardiola’s side who will be slight favourites in the second leg next Wednesday in the Etihad Stadium where they are unbeaten for five years in the competition.

They will have to be wa­ry, however, of a Real side who will also take a large amount of comfort from the first leg as they seek to win the trophy for a record-extending 15th time.

 VINICIUS JR (L) scores past Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson to give Real Madrid the lead.—AFP
VINICIUS JR (L) scores past Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson to give Real Madrid the lead.—AFP

Despite ceding the lion’s share of possession to City, especially in the first half, they oozed serenity, never panicked, and looked razor-sharp on the counter-attack.

The reigning champions also managed to shut down the supply to Haaland and in Brazilian livewire Vini­cius Jr they had the best player on the pitch on Tuesday.

No wonder wily old manager Carlo Ancelotti did not look too perturbed at not winning the opening leg.

“We competed, we fought, I think we deserved to win,” the Italian, who has won the competition twice with Real and twice with AC Milan, told Movistar Plus.

“The result doesn’t reward us for what we did on the pitch, but this tie will be close until the last minute. We have to play like this again next week. Our strategy was good, we weren’t worried when they had possession. Then the second half was completely different. We are left with good sensations.”

Ancelotti is usually calm and composed on the touchline but he lost his temper after City’s goal and was shown a yellow card for bitterly complaining with Portuguese referee Artur Dias. The Italian felt the ball went out of play in the buildup to City’s equaliser.

“The referee was too distracted,” Ancelotti told a press conference. “In the previous play it was a corner for us that he didn’t see. And the ball was out of play, the technology in the images shown by BeIN Sports shows that clearly.

“It’s strange that they didn’t see it. He gave me a yellow card, and I wasn’t even playing. Some of the players in the pitch dese­rved more cards. The referee wasn’t very attentive.”

Guardiola was happy with what he saw, although said some tweaks might be needed.

“Tight game, Bernabeu, a semi-final always is difficult. 1-1 and we have a final next Wednesday at home with our people,” he said. “Now it’s like a playoff. We can defend better in some departments, maybe we can attack a little differently. Alaba and Rudiger were so close to Erling, so there were very few spaces. Maybe we can adjust a couple of things.”

Under Guardiola City have dominated English football. They are on the brink of a fifth Premier League title in six seasons.

But they are yet to replicate that success on the European stage. In contrast to Real’s wealth of experience, City have only reac­hed the Cha­mpions League final once in their history.

City suffered heartache against Real at the same stage of the competition last season as a late collapse in the second leg at the Bernabeu saw the Spanish giants go on to win the competition for the 14th time.

But home advantage for the return leg could make the difference this year with winger Jack Grealish saying City were confident of finishing the job at home, where they are unbeaten at home since November.

“At the Etihad at the moment we feel unstoppable,” Grealish told BT Sport. “We came here tonight to try and win, but I think it shows our character to go a goal down and come back. In the end, it was a fair result.”

Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said the second leg will be like a “final” for the Spanish side. “Next week will be like a final, and we are quite good at winning finals,” Courtois said. “Hopefully we can mentalise it like that even though it is at City and it will be tough for us.”

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

Population calamity
Updated 22 Jul, 2024

Population calamity

Pakistan can also control its growth rate by following the examples of its peers and implementing functional family planning programmes and campaigns.
Blow to occupation
22 Jul, 2024

Blow to occupation

THE International Court of Justice has delivered a legal blow to the decades-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian...
Seeking Priya Kumari
22 Jul, 2024

Seeking Priya Kumari

PRIYA Kumari — the minor girl who vanished on Ashura in 2021 while serving water at a sabeel in Sukkur district ...
Olympics contingent
21 Jul, 2024

Olympics contingent

FROM 10 in Tokyo the last time, it is now down to seven in Paris, and split across just three disciplines. When...
Grave concerns
21 Jul, 2024

Grave concerns

PUNJAB Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz’s open assault on the Supreme Court for ruling in favour of the PTI in the...
Civil unrest
Updated 21 Jul, 2024

Civil unrest

The government must start putting out fires instead of fanning more flames.