MADRID, April 23- Real Madrid took a huge step towards their first Champions League final in 12 years as Karim Benzema’s first-half goal gave them a 1-0 first-leg lead over holders Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Frenchman was on hand to turn home Fabio Coentrao’s cross on 19 minutes and Madrid’s advantage could have been even greater had Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria not missed fine chances before the break.
Bayern had the overwhelming majority of possession but failed to convert it into many sights of goal as Iker Casillas’ low save from Mario Goetze five minutes from time was the only significant stop the Spanish captain was forced into all evening.
Defeat leaves the Germans with it all to do next Tuesday, April 29, if they are to continue their quest to become the first side to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.
Ronaldo was returning after four games out with a hamstring injury as he replaced Gareth Bale, who had been suffering from flu in the days before the game, in the only change from the Real side that beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final last week.
However, it was Bayern who settled first as they pinged the ball around for the opening 15 minutes, but Arjen Robben’s shot from the edge of the area that was deflected wide was their only serious effort on goal.
Madrid then stung the Germans with a stunning counter-attack as Ronaldo’s ball down the left for Coentrao was timed to perfection and the Portuguese full-back’s low cross was tapped home at the back post by Benzema.
Two minutes later Ronaldo came close to doubling Madrid’s lead, but his bullet header from Di Maria’s cross was too close to Manuel Neuer.
Ronaldo then missed a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0 when another quick break caught Bayern hopping and the World Player of the Year blasted over Benzema’s low cross from close range.
– No cutting edge –
Bayern were still enjoying the vast majority of the ball without cutting the Madrid defence open as Robben saw another goal-bound effort blocked before Philipp Lahm shot into the side-netting from a narrow angle.
Indeed Madrid should even have been further ahead at the break when Di Maria latched onto a deep cross at the back post but wastefully volleyed over with just Neuer to beat.
The German international ‘keeper was forced to make a save just two minutes after half-time when he diverted Ronaldo’s low shot across goal to safety.
Both sides then made a raft of substitutions as the game entered the final quarter with Bale replacing the clearly not 100 percent fit Ronaldo 16 minutes from time.
Raphael Varane also replaced the injured Pepe for Los Blancos, whilst Bayern coach Pep Guardiola introduced Javi Martinez, Mario Goetze and Thomas Mueller in the search for an away goal.
And it was two of the substitutes who combined to create the visitors’ best chance of the night as Mueller’s dinked cross found Goetze free inside the area and his low drive was brilliantly saved by Iker Casillas.
There was one final moment of controversy deep into stoppage time as Mueller tumbled under a challenge from Xabi Alonso inside the area, but English referee Howard Webb waved away the protests for a penalty to condemn Bayern to a third defeat in six games in all competitions.