Real Madrid, Manchester City end first leg level


Real Madrid and Manchester City played to a 1-1 draw Tuesday in the opening match of the marquee, two-game UEFA Champions League semifinal between the trophy holders and title favorites.

A blistering goal by Brazilian forward Vini Jr. gave host Real an early lead before Kevin De Bruyne’s second half strike canceled it out, ensuring that both teams will have everything to play for when they meet again in Manchester next Wednesday for a place in the finale in Istanbul on June 10.

Here are three quick thoughts on Tuesday’s match:

De Bruyne the hero for Manchester City

For the first 36 minutes on Tuesday’s contest at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Manchester City had produced a near-perfect away game. Not only had Pep Guardiola’s side taken the home crowd out of the match by controlling the bulk of the possession, they had been flawless defensively on the rare occasions when they did surrender the ball, preventing the star-studded hosts from mustering so much as a shot towards Ederson’s goal.

That all changed in an instant when, following a surging run into the visitors’ half by left back Eduardo Camavinga, Vini Jr. put the host ahead with his 15th career Champions League goal — one more than his countryman and Real legend Ronaldo Nazário.

The strike both energized Carlo Ancelotti’s team and stunned Guardiola’s. Immediately before and after halftime, Real looked like the squad that was going to score next.


De Bruyne had other ideas. For all of Erling Haaland’s greatness, the veteran Belgian remains City’s best all-around player. And just when it seemed like City’s dreams of slaying the most successful European club of all time on the way to winning its coveted first continental title would be dashed yet again, De Bruyne silenced the Bernabéu  faithful with an equalizer that was every bit as good as the opener.

It marks the third consecutive year that De Bruyne has scored a vital goal in the competition’s final four. And even though it doesn’t count as a traditional “away goal” — UEFA scrapped the longtime tiebreaker last year — psychologically it’s huge for City to go home square. Should City get to the final, it will go down as the most important of the lot.

No Champions League magic for Real Madrid this time 

When Vini Jr.’s shot sailed past Ederson and into the net, the script seemed all too familiar. With 14 European titles — twice as many as any other team — Real knows how to win Champions League games better than anyone else.

Injuries, a revolving door of coaches and players, whatever Los Blancos form in La Liga happens to be at the time — none of that seems to matter when it comes to succeeding in this tournament. Of course Real would find a way to take the lead despite the visitors first half masterclass. And once they did, it looked for all the world that the hosts’ championship pedigree would kick in just as it had in the dying moments of last year’s semi against the same opponent, when Real began perhaps its most memorable comeback yet en route to another title.

And for much of the second half, stunned City was there for the taking. You could almost feel the guests’ insecurity growing with each passing moment. This time, though, Real couldn’t muster a response once De Bruyne put the foes back on level terms.

There’s still 90 minutes (at least) to play. Counting Real out would be laughably foolish. Still, if the holders can’t secure the victory they need in Manchester, their failure to win at home will be looked back on as the main reason they didn’t advance.

Decisive match will be a can’t miss

While hard core partisan supporters on both sides might be disappointed by Tuesday’s result, for neutrals the first leg was a treat. With all respect to fellow semifinalists Inter and AC Milan, who’ll open their two-match set on Wednesday, Real and City are the best two club teams there is — and it’s not particularly close.

The intensity, physicality and quality on display Tuesday was a treat to behold. Sure, the two first leg goals are a far cry from the seven scored in last year’s curtain-raiser. But everything is still to play for for both sides on May 17. As much as it’s a shame that it’s not for the silverware itself, seeing these titans go toe-to-toe twice in eight days more than makes up for it.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter at @ByDougMcIntyre.

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