Ronaldo is set to play in the Champions League final.

Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s mauling of Bayern Munich

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Following Real Madrid’s spanking of Bayern Munich on Tuesday night at the Allianz Arena, the reigning champions were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League at the semifinal stage.

Bayern were beaten heavily, as Pep Guardiola’s men rolled over against Real who finally made it to their first UCL final since 2002 after being knocked out at the semifinal stage during the last three seasons. The men from Madrid were long overdue.

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Real tore Bayern apart with three goals in the first 30 minutes putting the Spanish giants 4-0 ahead on aggregate… that was the way it remained until the last two minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second and Real’s fourth to make it 5-0 to the Spanish giants on aggregate. You read that right. Real shut up shop to thwart the German side, as Bayern had over 60 percent of the possession on the night but that counted for nothing as the tiki-taka approach was ambushed by Real’s pacey and incisive attacks.

So, everyone’s favorites are out and Real are heading to Lisbon on May 24 for the UCL final. Here are three things that stood out in a clinical mauling, as one European powerhouse battered another.

Sergio Ramos and Pepe prevail

Within the first 20 minutes of Real Madrid’s win over Bayern, Sergio Ramos became the first defender to head home two goals in a UCL semifinal.  The Spaniard rose like a salmon above Dante on the first, then nipped in ahead of Mario Mandzukic on the second. That knocked the stuffing out of Bayern, who knew they must score four goals to go through. That soon became five after a devastating counter-attack between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (more on that soon) finished off the Bavarians in the first half. Try as they might Bayern couldn’t get back into the game as Ramos did his main job at the other end of the pitch superbly. Alongside Pepe, Real Madrid’s central defensive duo bossed Mandzukic as they headed and cleared away every dangerous ball that Bayern flung into the box. Carlo Ancelotti’s Real has a solid foundation about them this season, they have only conceded nine goals and have kept five clean sheets in their 12 UCL games. Everyone marvels about the attacking talents of Real, and rightly so, yet when Real raced through the door towards the Champions League final in Lisbon on May 24 thanks to their forwards, Pepe and Ramos made sure it slammed shut in Bayern’s face and there was no chance of a crazy comeback.

 

source: AP
Real’s central defensive duo battered Bayern at both ends of the pitch.

Substance over style: the end of tiki-taka?

Talking of comebacks, Spain put their pain behind them (well, Real did) last season after both Real and Barcelona were destroyed by German sides Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at the semifinal stage. Tearing Bayern apart on the counter-attack, Real used their solid defensive foundation wonderfully well on Tuesday. Soaking up Bayern pressure then hitting the German giants where it hurt, Real have now scored 36 goals and counting in this season’s Champions League. That is 11 more than their nearest rivals, Paris Saint-Germain, who were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage. When I say substance over style prevailing, I mean that instead of passing it for the sake of it, Real just went for goal. Pace, direct play and precision prevailed as Real broke time and time again to smash Bayern into submission. Ronaldo and Bale were just too good. Every time a ball was hooked out of defense, it seemed like a magnet was inserted into Karim Benzema’s foot as the Frenchman held the ball up, laid it back to Luka Modric or Xabi Alonso, who then clipped it forward to Bale or Ronaldo to turn on the afterburners. Sometimes, soccer is a simple game. Defend, hold the ball up, clip it in the channels and get speedy wingers on the end of it. Does this mark something more significant though? Direct soccer seems to be overtaking the tiki-taka approach, as Guardiola’s possession obsession bared no fruit against Real and their water-tight defense.

Bayern’s frail defense finally exposed

Bayern have only won four of their last 10 games in the last month since they won the Bundesliga title, as the reigning champions have eased into the final few months of the season. That showed on Tuesday as Bayern’s defense were slow, sluggish and something which has been brewing for a while happened: Munich’s defensive frailties were mercifully exposed. Brazilian central defender Dante is good on the ball and decent in the air, but he switched off for the first two goals and was caught by Bale and Ronaldo’s pace for the third. He earned himself a new contract earlier this year after being linked to Manchester United… looks like the Red Devils have dodged a bullet there. Speaking of United, Dante was unable to cope with the pace of Danny Welbeck in their quarterfinal win and Bale and Ronaldo tore him apart in the semis. Bayern’s defense just couldn’t handle the direct play of Real, as you could see in previous UCL games that the German champions were easily exposed by long balls over the top as Dante and Jerome Boateng struggle when being turned around and defending with their back to the play. After tasting defeat despite dominating possession over both legs, will Guardiola alter his style next season to get Bayern back to the summit of European soccer? He may have to, otherwise his defense will be exposed to pacey attackers who can make tiki-taka look lackadaisical and lackluster once more. A changing of the guard is occurring again in European soccer. Spanish pace, not German possession, rules the UCL this season.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

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Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET