Real Madrid CF will take a narrow lead to Germany for next Tuesday's UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg after a solitary strike from Karim Benzema proved enough against FC Bayern München.
Having been eliminated in last four in their previous three campaigns, Madrid's determination not to miss out on another showpiece at the last hurdle paid off, Benzema scoring his fifth goal of this European campaign midway through the opening period. Having failed to increase their advantage, however, the Liga giants' final ambitions will face a stern test against the holders next week.
'Kings of Europe' read the giant banner unfurled in the stadium's southern section as the teams made their way onto the pitch and with 14 European Cups between them, the description was apt. What followed was a testament to two of the continent's footballing heavyweights, meeting for a 21st time. Bayern – unbeaten in their last ten UEFA Champions League away games – took the initiative, Arjen Robben seeing an effort deflected wide before Bastian Schweinsteiger headed straight at Iker Casillas.
Visibly frustrated in the face of their guests' early dominance, Carlo Ancelotti's side flared into life and forged ahead against the run of play in the 19th minute. Fábio Coentrão ghosted past Jérôme Boateng on the left and made the most of the space, squaring for Benzema to tap in. With momentum suddenly in their favour, Cristiano Ronaldo headed at Manuel Neuer before the grateful goalkeeper gathered an Ángel Di María shot.
Back in the side following knee and hamstring injuries, Ronaldo was seeking a record 15th goal in a single European Cup campaign – and his 50th strike in the competition for Madrid – but his over-eagerness proved costly as he shot over from Benzema's centre. As the game continued to open up, Philipp Lahm struck the side-netting while Di María thumped over from close range at the other end.
Appearing in a record-extending 25th European Cup semi-final, Madrid emerged for the second half looking determined to extend their lead, Ronaldo twice drawing saves low down from Neuer. Bayern continued to maintain a high attacking line yet finding a way past the host's solid and well-organised defence – despite Pepe's withdrawal through injury – continued to prove tricky.
Substitute Thomas Müller tried and failed from distance while Mario Götze shot straight at Casillas late on. That meant a first defeat at this stadium as a coach for Josep Guardiola, leaving the Catalan tactician with plenty to ponder ahead of next week's return.
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