Arsenal FC goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was at a loss to explain his superb save from Raúl González that propelled the London club into the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Lehmann tipped the ball away with the goal seemingly at the mercy of the Real Madrid CF striker, who had just seen a stinging second-half shot bounce back off the post.
It was the nearest Madrid came to overturning a 1-0 first-leg deficit on a night when Lehmann was superb in the Arsenal goal. "Sometimes as a goalkeeper you are lucky," Lehmann said. "He hit the post with the first shot and I got up, unexpectedly quickly for my age, and I saved the second one. I don't know how. Sometimes you just do it, then in the next game you fail to do it. You can't really explain it."
The 36-year-old was called on as early as the third minute when he dived to his right to claw away Ronaldo's header, and was in the thick of the action for much of an open match as an increasingly desperate Madrid strove to get back into the tie. In the final minute the relief around Highbury was audible as he clung on to Robinho's low drive. "It's great, as a player you live for that – the passion, the atmosphere, the tension inside the stadium, the crowd behind you. We are little children who have grown up and are still playing football, that's what it's all about. There's passion and there's atmosphere, there's fun and there's a big, big release of emotions. It takes a while to calm down afterwards."
Unlike many of the Highbury faithful, Lehmann was sure his side would weather the Madrid storm. "I was confident we'd make it this time," he said. "I had a crucial game against them three or four years ago with [BV] Borussia Dortmund. It was 0-0 as well and in the last minute they scored. I said to myself, 'I don't want to suffer that again'. This time it worked out for us."
Madrid's full array of 'galácticos' were on display, with Zinédine Zidane prompting play from midfield. Lehmann believes Madrid's all-star cast helped a young Arsenal team maintain their focus. "It makes you a little bit more focused and concentrated. They have a big, big precision on their passes, great accuracy and you know there is quality in these players. Our young players coped very well with it and played two outstanding games. Now we want to focus on Liverpool [FC], our next game on Sunday, because we want to qualify for the Champions League next season and we will wait for the draw before talking about that. I don't care [who we get], I think [FC] Barcelona are a very attractive side, [AC] Milan ... you don't really want to play Juventus."
Arsenal may be off the pace in the Premiership, but they are England's sole remaining representative in the UEFA Champions League. Their success here was built on the unexpected resilience of a makeshift back four, comprising youngsters Emmanuel Eboué, Mathieu Flamini and Philippe Senderos who has forged an excellent partnership with Kolo Touré in Sol Campbell's absence. With Campbell and Ashley Cole soon back, Arsenal have every chance of getting beyond the quarter-finals for the first time, but will keep their feet on the ground. "I don't like to talk about records because it means you never achieve them," Lehmann said. If he can hold his silence a little bit longer, he may have plenty more to shout about.
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