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    Wednesday, April 19, 2023

    No Need for Champions League Heroics for Madrid this Time

    Real Madrid's Rodrygo, left, is fouled by Chelsea's goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    Real Madrid is making it look easy this time.

    There’s been no need for late heroics or big comebacks. No need for last-minute goals or extra time. Instead, it’s just been straightforward dominance.

    After needing to rally its way through the knockout rounds of the Champions League last season, Madrid is taking the easier route this time, cruising into the semifinals to stay on track for a record-extending 15th European title.

    Madrid defeated Chelsea 2-0 in London on Tuesday in the second leg of the quarterfinals, advancing 4-0 on aggregate following what had been another dominant performance in the first game last week in Madrid.

    The latest victory came after two goals from Rodrygo, whose second came in a 30-pass buildup that showcased Madrid’s breathtaking form in the European competition this season.

    Madrid has been more balanced than ever, with the attack working well and the defense playing solidly, allowing the team to stay in control and avoid having to come from behind. Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said the “collective effort defensively” is making a difference and allowing Madrid to “show its quality.”

    “We’ve worked well in recent games and the team is highly motivated and focused,” Ancelotti said. “We have a lot of quality and being solid at the back helps us a lot. To make it to the semifinals is always a success and allows us to dream about winning the title again.”

    Madrid had eliminated six-time European champion Liverpool 6-2 on aggregate in the round of 16, when it won 5-2 in the first leg in Liverpool despite conceding two early goals.

    “I still don’t know how to explain how the Champions League makes us all react and perform, but I have to say that it’s very special indeed,” Rodrygo said.

    It was also special last season, but Madrid had to suffer a lot more.

    Before beating Liverpool in the final, Madrid was in danger of elimination in each round of the knockout stage.

    Its first comeback came against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, when Madrid looked beaten after losing the first leg 1-0 and conceding early in the return game in the Spanish capital. The hosts eventually rallied with a second-half hat trick by Karim Benzema.

    It was with another hat trick by Benzema that Madrid won the first leg at Chelsea 3-1 in last season’s quarterfinals. But the team trailed 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the second leg and needed a late goal by Rodrygo in regulation and another by Benzema in extra time to make it to the semifinals.

    In the semifinals against Manchester City, Madrid lost a thrilling first leg 4-3 in England, and its deficit increased after conceding in the 73rd minute of the return game at home. But Rodrygo scored in the 90th and in stoppage time to force extra time, when Benzema converted a decisive penalty kick to put Madrid in the final.

    Madrid will play in the semifinals for the 11th time in 13 seasons — against either Manchester City or Bayern Munich. City won the first leg 3-0 at home last week.

    Ancelotti won’t have defender Éder Militão available for the first leg of the semifinals because of a yellow card suspension. -AP

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