Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti was eager to hail match-winner Javier Hernandez after the on-loan Manchester United striker fired his team into the Champions League semi-finals.
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The Italian has rarely selected Hernandez this season, preferring to stick with his much-heralded ‘BBC’ strike force of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
But with Benzema and Bale both injured, Ancelotti decided to plump for the Mexican frontman, who was making only his seventh start for Los Blancos in all competitions.
And Hernandez didn’t disappoint, looking sharp and scoring the only goal of the match against Atletico, delighting his manager who said: “You have to congratulate
him because he’s had a tough season and not played much. We knew he would be important.”
Ancelotti also explained that his gamble to play Sergio Ramos in the centre of midfield was a decision he reached as soon as he knew that Luka Modric would be unavailable.
“When Modric was injured, we decided that Ramos would play in midfield. We planned a good game with a good strategy and we followed it until the end,” he added.
And he felt his team were worthy winners, adding: “Everything went well, the team was plugged in. We played against a very strong opponent who I greatly respect. They work very hard defensively.”
Hernandez was understandably delighted to make such a decisive contribution after failing to make much impact over the previous months.
He said: “I was patient, and my team-mates and my family believed in me. This goal is for them. The goal came to me, but it belongs to the whole team.
"It was a great assist from Cristiano Ronaldo and great work from everyone.”
Juventus also progressed on the night, a 0-0 draw in Monaco securing a 1-0 aggregate victory and captain Gianluigi Buffon rejoiced in a first semi-final appearance in 12 years, ahead of Friday’s draw in Nyon (15:00, UAE time).
Buffon was in the Juve side which lost to Milan in the 2003 final but has warned his team-mates this year to not get carried away.
He said: “I’ve had to wait a while to return to this stage of Europe. But, given how difficult our path here has been, it’s even more enjoyable.
“We have not won or achieved anything yet, we just wanted to get to the semi-finals at all costs.”
Javier Hernandez netted a fairytale late winner for Real Madrid to secure a fiercely-contested victory over city rivals Atletico.
The Mexican striker has been rarely used since joining Los Blancos on loan from Manchester United but manager Carlo Ancelotti handed him a start after a series of injury blows to his squad.
And Hernandez vindicated that decision by providing the biggest goal threat all night, and eventually sending his team into the semi-finals by pouncing for the tie’s only goal three minutes from time.
Spain is 1st country with 2 teams in Champions League semifinals in 5 straight seasons (this year: Real Madrid, Barcelona)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 22, 2015
For much of the preceding 87 minutes it had appeared that extra time was likely, but Real were the worthy winners on the whole after creating far more clear chances over the two legs, while Atletico played the final stages with 10 men after Arda Turan was sent off.
Both managers sprang selection surprises before kick-off, with Ancelotti selecting Sergio Ramos in the centre of midfield, while Diego Simeone picked young midfielder Saul Niguez ahead of captain Gabi.
However, Simeone was made to pay for his negative approach to the game when Turan’s dismissal swung the game in Real’s favour prior to Hernandez’s strike.
The Mexican had been responsible for a series of squandered second-half chances prior to finally converting with moments remaining after a powerful run from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Juventus are through to the last four of the Champions League for the first time since 2003 after a goalless draw in their quarter-final, second leg with Monaco.
A controversial Arturo Vidal penalty in the first leg in Turin last week ultimately proved enough for the Serie A leaders, who relied on their defensive strength to see off opponents again let down by their lack of quality in the final third.
Great snap of Gianluigi Buffon after Juventus made it to the Champions League semis for the 1st time in 12 years pic.twitter.com/JAhz4R0fG8
— 101 Great Goals (@102greatgoals) April 22, 2015
A Monaco side full of youthful enthusiasm pushed forward for long spells, but Juventus – who had let in just one goal in their previous nine matches – always looked in control and veteran ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon was never seriously threatened.
The Italian giants came closest to scoring from a 90th-minute Andrea Pirlo free-kick that clipped the bar and can now look forward to Friday’s semi-final draw, where they will not mind being considered the underdogs alongside Bayern Munich, Barcelona and holders Real Madrid.
Coach Leonardo Jardim believes Monaco’s march to the Champions League quarter-finals is proof clubs do not have to splash the cash in order to achieve European success.
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Four years have passed since Dmitry Rybolovlev’s takeover prompted a slew of big-name arrivals at the Stade Louis II, with the likes of Radamel Falcao, James
Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho signed for hefty transfer fees.
But the Russian billionaire has tightened the purse strings in recent seasons and, with most of Monaco’s expensive signings subsequently moving on, Jardim has been forced to nurture young talent after finding his options in the transfer market restricted.
Monaco’s new-found financial prudence is beginning to yield results, however, with Les Rouges et Blancs third in Ligue 1 and still in with a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time in 11 years.
The principality club host Juventus tonight looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the quarter-final first leg and Jardim, who replaced Claudio Ranieri last June, is proud of what he has achieved in his 10 months at the helm.
— AS MONACO (@AS_Monaco) April 22, 2015
“We went from the worst qualified team in the fourth pot, to winning the group, to knocking out a European giant in Arsenal,” he said.
“Right now, you could say that Monaco’s coach is very proud of his players. We’ve shown that we don’t need to make big investments to go far in this competition.
The club changed its strategy and the project. They have stayed ambitious but the onus was placed more on the development of youth.”
Jardim’s young guns will have to be on top form if they are to advance to the semi-finals past a Juventus side 15 points clear at the top of the Serie A standings and well poised after Arturo Vidal’s spot-kick winner in Turin last Tuesday.
Juve are bidding to reach their first Champions League semi-final for 12 years and boss Massimiliano Allegri is taking nothing for granted ahead of the encounter.
“The clean sheet at home gives us a slight advantage, even though it won’t be straightforward,” he said.
“We now know our opposition: they’re very well organised in defence and possess technique and physicality in forward areas.”