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UEFA Champions League 2015-Finally! Real Sink Atletico 1-0 to Advance

In a cagey, dirty dishwater grey contest, Real Madrid defeated Atletico Madrid 1-0 on a gloriously late Javier Hernandez goal to finally eliminate their stubborn, feisty crosstown rivals from the Champions League. On the strength of huge performances from Sergio Ramos, Pepe and James Rodriguez, Los Blancos overcame a typically ferocious Atleti challenge (not to mention a flurry of elbows) to earn a chance to defend the Decima in the semifinals.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The match started stuck purposefully in neutral, with Atletico using their superlative positional discipline to allow Real some space in midfield before frantically pressing when the ball shifted to either flank. This pressure forced Real to spray harmless diagonals that Atleti were able to neutralize with ease. Neither side were really able to gain any traction or fluidity in their buildup play and this perfectly suited Atletico who were patiently biding their time to capitalize on a counter or set-piece.

Early on Dani Carvajal functioned as Real's engine wheres James provided creativity in the absence of Luka Modric. Carlo Ancelotti's much discussed gamble placing Sergio Ramos in the midfield paid off beautifully. Ramos provided tireless, powerful box-to-box running and decent distribution, particularly as the match wore on. He also combined with Pepe and Raphael Varane to completely nullify Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann, who were complete non-factors throughout the two-legged tie. In fact, one would be hard pressed to remember one threatening, sustained Atletico attack in this match, outside of Jesus Gamez's withering shot at Iker Casillas in the 29th minute.

Atleti sought to bog Real down with their organization and cynical borderline NFL tackling. But James was able to shine through pockets of limited space, finding Javier Hernandez in the 12th minute for a chance that went horribly wrong. James then lobbed an inviting free-kick over the net in the 27th minute as the match and tie remained ominously scoreless. Toni Kroos also began to make use of the limited space, locating James who set Chicharito up for a promising header in the 31st minute that the Mexican again spurned. Sensing a theme yet?

Cristiano Ronaldo began dropping deeper to collect the ball, create space and get more involved in Real's link-up play. His workrate was excellent and would pay dividends in the 2nd half. Right before the half a giveaway by Mandzukic in Real's end allowed CR7 to break in on goal and force Jan Oblak to make a huge save. It seemed in that moment as if Atletico were impenetrable and destined to advance.

This dread was reinforced directly out of the gate after the restart when Isco unleashed a slicing, sliderule ball directly into Hernandez's path that was cruelly wasted by the misfiring Mexican international. Ramos began to become more influential, willing the team to win with his dynamic, fiery midfield display. Finally, Atletico's abrasive histrionics exploded in their face when Arda Turan (the man of a thousand elbows) launched into a silly Bruce Lee style tackle that got him sent off. Down to ten men for the last 15 minutes of the contest, the bell finally began to toll for Diego Simeone's squad. But not before Chicarito left another gilt-edged chance begging in the 80th minute. James and Cristiano began to circle tired Atleti legs like wolves.

It would be James who put Cristiano in on goal in the 88th minute when the Dark Invader squared the ball for Chicharito to slide into a gaping net. The Mexican did not, could not miss--gaining his exhausted redemption in a heap on the Bernabeu pitch as the pall of eight long fruitless Atleti matches was lifted and a path to the semifinals secured.

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