April 12th and 13th, 2022

The second leg matches of the quarterfinals of the best league in the world: The Champions League. I've been there several times, but it was the first time my whole family was able to attend together at the Santiago Bernabeu. We got four fantastic tickets. We decided to go early and settle in a crowded Plaza de los Sagrados Corazones to see the arrival of the bus carrying the players. At 7:30 p.m., in the middle of a summer-like downpour more than a spring one, the "llegada busiana" appeared, as it is known in Chamartín. Among rockets, purple fireworks, and chants of "Hala Madrid," it was a reception as if they needed to make a comeback, despite winning 3-1.

On our way to our seats, amid a river of fanatic Madridistas who applauded Madrid, they took time between cheers to remember their archrival. Singing "Barca plays on Thursdays," creatively and ironically mocking them. Under the understanding that Champions League games are only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and UEFA League games are played on Thursdays.

The Bernabéu was still under remodelation and in the process of becoming one of the most innovative stadiums in the world. Gigantic cranes rose on all four sides as a sign of the renovation. We entered through gate seven, and our seats were in the front row, very close to the center. The rain stopped, as if not to give any excuses for a game marked by water.

The European champions were the first to take the field and do their stretches and warm-ups. First, the group of goalkeepers, then the rest of the team. Minutes later, the locals came out, generating the first frenetic screams from the audience, who were already taking their seats.

As the starting lineup was announced, a deafening uproar each time the name of each player was mentioned, and the stadium responded with the player's last name. The south stand unfolded a giant mural with the legend "Don't play with the King" and a king dressed in purple, throwing cards with the 13 of cups. The notes of "Hala Madrid" were heard, and the just over 70,000 fans sang that anthem in unison. I shivered as I sang along with everyone: “Ya salen las estrellas, mi viejo Chamartín, De lejos y de cerca, nos traes hasta aquí", “The stars are coming out now, my old Chamartín, from near and far, you bring us here," and like so many other times, I felt like the song was also written for me.

The English surprised with a yellow uniform. The referees, as I had not seen in a long time, came out with the traditional black. The locals in the traditional white. They lined up to listen to the Champions League anthem, this time sung in English. At exactly nine o'clock, the Polish referee blew the whistle to start the match.

Despite the supposed comfortable advantage obtained in Stamford Bridge, there was a tense and nervous atmosphere. Madrid wanted to come out with the ball controlled. A loss by Valverde in the build-up, controlled by Kovacic, supported by Havertz, who left it spectacularly, and Mount completed the 0-1, barely in the 15th minute. Silence, but not absolute. Somehow, the fact that it was so early also gave some breathing room.

Chelsea continued to suffocate Madrid. The feeling was terrible. Muscles tense. We go to halftime. Ancelotti doesn't make any changes and the original eleven return. Tuchel's team took advantage of the kindness. A corner found Rüdiger completely unmarked. He headed impressively into the net. Minute 51. Silence, growing deeper. Tied on aggregate.

With nothing left to lose, Madrid seemed to remember who they were. They went forward with ambition, taking risks at the back. Risks that were paid dearly. A terrible loss by Mendy – the Madrid´s Wendy - allowed a supersonic counter-attack by Chelsea that was resolved by Marcos Alonso. It was 0-3. A bucket of water, not cold, frozen. Already formed at the center circle, the Polish referee is called from VAR. Time freezes. Without having to review it on screen, he invalidates the goal. And the Bernabéu stands up for the first time since the start, reliving.

Benzema hit a header against the crossbar. Screams. First change, Camavinga replaces Kroos. They haven't even settled in when Werner, after faking out the entire white defense, scores the 0-3. At that moment, Madrid was out of the semifinals. 16 minutes plus extra time left. Silence, now truly grave.

In those tragic circumstances is when the indomitable spirit of Madrid emerges. Marcelo comes in and plays an outstanding game, and Rodrygo, who seems to be doing well in the Champions League, comes in. When it seemed ready to be finished, when Chelsea was a grown team, when the Bernabéu was shaking, Modric appeared.

It's not the first time that has happened with the Croat, who is closer to 40 than 30, whether with Madrid or his national team. At the most delicate moment, Luka stands up and pulls his team and his stadium, making what seemed impossible a reality.

He invented a 25-meter pass with the outside of his foot that Rodrygo masterfully turned into a goal. Minute 80 and we and the other 70,000 jumped like a volcanic eruption. 1-3. Tied. With the stadium on fire, Chelsea showed their champion caliber. They had two very clear chances to seal the win. Courtois was also playing. To extra time.

The atmosphere remained tense, with players' muscles and our own exhausted from the tension. Madrid's defense, 20 centimeters shorter on average than the English, twisted as they could against the crosses that all carried danger.

In midfield, Camavinga stole the ball and fed Vinicius, who stopped in the area, looked up, and waited for Benzema to arrive. He put it on his forehead, and the Bernabéu exploded into a million pieces. Benzema again. Karim, Karim, Karim, we rose in joy and celebration.

There were minutes left, which seemed like centuries for the epic and torture. Lucas Vazquez turned into a utility player. Modric was overflowing with class and dedication. Karim, despite being injured, encouraged players and the stadium. And suffering with every English corner. Every ball in the area was a mini heart attack, and the voice drifted further away. Throats were left hoarse. Screams were heard as if they were deaf.     

The referee whistles the end. Players fall to the ground, exhausted. So do we. From the absolute torment of losing a tie that had been won in the first leg, to the ecstasy of sealing another comeback for the ages. From the brink of collapse to experiencing the greatness of the Champions League, where not even a 3-1 lead allows for a comfortable night.

The English, who can't be faulted for anything, gather in the north corner to salute the group of fans at the top of the stadium, flanked by steel fences to avoid trouble between supporters. The Bernabéu also pays tribute to them. I greatly appreciate that chivalrous gesture. There were no "boos", but rather a recognition of their commitment and game planning.

The Madrid players wait and embrace each other, touring the field, applauding, and thanking the crowd who, despite the tension, always cheered them on. The joy of everyone is palpable. What a game! What an experience!

These matches that only occur from February to May on the fields of Europe, when only the true champions remain. Where the Champions League, for my taste, the best tournament in the world, puts on its best shows. And it doesn't matter if you're a Real Madrid fan or an anti-Madridista, you bow down to the spectacle.


Wednesday, tired from the epic night before. In addition to the stress of the game, we walked the entire Paseo de la Castellena to get to the hotel. Taxis seemed to have disappeared, as if the excitement of the game had swallowed them up too.

To relax, we went to eat at the famous Ten Con Ten on Ayala Street in the Serrano neighborhood. As had happened to Karla in the previous season, the hero of the previous night was sitting at the same table. Luka Modric was just starting to eat. We were kindly asked not to bother him, and he wouldn't call for a photo himself. And so, he did, with a big smile, he allowed us to approach his table. So, in addition to the cardiac emotions of the night before, we left with a picture of the Croatian, dressed in civilian clothes.

This would be a more relaxed match, at least for me. I preferred Atlético de Madrid to win, but what I wished for was a good game. The styles of Cholo and Guardiola predicted a tight match. In the first leg, Atlético de Madrid came out with an ultra-defensive plan and only went down by one goal. Now that they were at home and with the obligation to turn the score around, they would have to attack, but I believed that Cholo wouldn't do so until after the 50th minute, if the score was still 0-0.

Based on the previous experience at the Wanda, I hired a driver who would take us, but above all, wait for us at the stadium exit. Patricio, an Ecuadorian driver, picked us up promptly and dropped us off at Gate 34 around 7 pm. At that time, the Atlético team bus was coming in. We had time to have a couple of beers on the esplanade in front of the stadium gates.

We witnessed how some English hooligans incited fights, a scuffle between them, and how mounted police quickly arrived to restore order. We made our way to our seats, which this time were bought from a friend of our lawyer who is a club member. Oh, surprise! The club seats are spectacular. Nothing like those at BBVA in Guadalupe. In addition, unlike at the Bernabéu, beer is sold here. But even better, in our seats it's included Not only beer, but also wine, snacks, and tapas are in abundance at the Wanda stadium, despite the UEFA banning 5,000 seats due to Nazi salutes in Manchester during the first leg. The Atleti fans chant their anthems with more passion than even at the Bernabeu.

The Colchoneros wear their traditional uniform while the City a dark blue one. The first few minutes show a similar picture to the first leg, with City controlling the ball against Atleti's two lines of five. However, there are some differences, with Simeone's team being more aggressive in their pressing and perhaps with Joao Felix alone upfront.

The defense is well-organized and rehearsed. The ten Colchoneros close ranks like a Spartan army, always in the same position. Fonden ends up with a cut on his head and leaves the field with a bandage, but the Brazilian offender of Atleti doesn't receive a yellow card. He doesn't escape the second one after taking down De Bruyne.

Atleti escapes by a miracle! Mahrez's spectacular pass to Walker leads to a center for Fonde, who passes to Gundogan, but the latter hits the post to Oblak's right. Atleti only shoots once throughout the first half, just as predicted.

Everyone takes a break to rest and refuel with beer, potato omelette snacks, and chorizo tapas. I trust that Cholo will now send everyone forward. That's how the second half begins, with more offensive ambition, and the home team is showing more dominance and aggression. The fans respond. Tension is in the air.

City escapes! A great shot by Griezmann just misses the right post of Ederson. Attacks come from all sides. Roles have reversed, and City is now being dominated. Guardiola's men cannot get out of their own half. Pressure is overwhelming them. Correa misses another clear chance. Suarez comes on, still injured, but there are only 12 minutes left, and Cholo is pulling out all the stops.

Atleti misses again! Another clear chance for the Spaniards. Correa chest-passes the ball to Cunha inside the box, and the Brazilian's shot is blocked by Stones, when it was going into the net with no goalkeeper in sight. A miraculous action by the English defender.

Minute 90. Scuffle and brawl on the sidelines. Felipe against Fonden again. Felipe is sent off. Nine minutes of extra time. A quick counterattack, and Oblak keeps Atleti alive, blocking a one-on-one against Gundogan.

I can't take it anymore and stand up to go to the bathroom and watch the last minutes on my feet. Dangerous free-kick from Carrasco that none of the Atleti players could head, and Ederson ends up deflecting with his fists. Minute 100. Correa has one last chance, but it finds the saving hands of the Brazilian goalkeeper.

Atleti had City completely tied down and dominated throughout the second half, but they couldn't get on the scoreboard. Sometimes, football is like that. Guardiola's men hardly left their half and held on to the draw with their nails, running down the clock with fouls and trickery that enraged the locals and the entire stadium. As if the roles had been reversed. City played Cholo-style, and the Colchoneros attacked.

A thrilling 0-0 draw. Of course, that's coming from me, who didn't care about the result. Well, except for the fact that City will face Madrid in the semifinals. I must recognize Atletico's fans, who didn't stop applauding and cheering on their warriors, and even after the defeat, they gave ten continuous minutes of applause for the effort and sweat left on the pitch. The sad players also appreciated it.

How different it is to watch a match without your team playing. I feel, or rather suffer, matches at Heinz Field or the Bernabeu in a very different way. Despite my unpleasant experiences with Atletico's fans in the Champions League final in Milan, I genuinely wanted them to win. Almost like the match the day before in Munich. 26 shots on goal from Bayern, one from Villarreal, which became a goal in the 88th minute, so the Spanish team of the Yellow Submarine will face Liverpool. That night, Atletico dominated without being able to score. Luck also plays a part.

An orderly departure despite the defeat. Patricio was waiting for us. We acted as good Samaritans and gave a ride to a couple from Argentina and another from Leon, who foolishly thought they could find a taxi at the exit. As the saying goes, "Today for you, tomorrow for me."

Upon arriving at the hotel, we saw the final interview with El Cholo. He clarified that, for him, the most important thing and above all else is to win. And on Wednesday, he didn't win. So he wasn't happy. He thanked his players' effort and, in an elegant but sarcastic manner, mocked Guardiola. There is no doubt that Simeone is a fighter and the main actor of his team. A conductor, who today did not succeed with his plan.

He was the most cheered when the lineup was announced and is the cheerleader and instigator of the stadium. With his arms raised, the entire stadium echoed and repeated his applause, as if he were blowing oxygen into the live wood. I don't share his style of play, but I certainly admire his leadership and efficiency in managing a squad that is worth half of City's.

The semifinals are now defined. Two Spanish teams against two English teams. The best leagues represented on the road to Paris. Two Tuesdays and two Wednesdays of madness remain. I repeat what I said before, the best tournament in the world.

One year after Real Madrid's feat at the Bernabeu to reach the semifinals, the match against Chelsea with the same objective is repeated. I share with you the review of 2022, now also in English.

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