“The referee had a rubbish bin where his heart should be,” Buffon said, while Vázquez insisted: “It’s a penalty, the centre-back arrives and bundles me over. But in a situation like that the protests are normal, it’s the last minute after a great game.” Ronaldo thought differently. “I don’t know why they were protesting but football’s like that,” he said. As he left the stadium, he and Buffon embraced. They had not seen each other when the moment came. Buffon walked, Wojciech Szczesny came on to replace him. All the while, Ronaldo waited.
Szczesny had no time to warm up or touch the ball. Ronaldo, who admitted “the minutes before taking the penalty felt eternal”, had it. Szczesny headed on to his line, where he jumped up and down pushing the bar, making it wobble. Ronaldo, still standing there, took a deep breath and then another, as if trying to force both lungs out with the air that had filled them. He was not the only one. Eventually he began his run, Dani Carvajal way behind him, on his knees and unable to look. The clock had said 92min 21sec when Vázquez went down; by the time Ronaldo struck the penalty it was 96.55.
The nerves he admitted to having were not visible, the ball flying into the top corner – his 15th goal in the competition this season, at least one in every match – and the stadium erupting. “Where does the fear go when it escapes your body?” Jorge Bustos asked in El Mundo. There was a lot of it rushing out. It had been there – “somewhere between your intestines and your throat”, Bustos reckoned – from the start to the end.
Comebacks form part of Madrid’s legend, encapsulated in the phrase uttered by the forward Juanito in 1986. Madrid had been beaten 3-1 by Internazionale in the first leg of a Uefa Cup tie but Juanito warned that the second leg would be different, saying in cod Italian: “Noventa minuti en el Bernabéu son molto longo.” Ninety minutes in the Bernabéu are very long. It was supposed to apply to opponents, not Madrid, but here it was reversed. These 90 minutes were molto, molto longo indeed.
When Juventus scored their first, one minute 16 seconds
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had gone and it was 8.47pm; when Madrid scored their first, finally ending it, it was 10.40pm. An hour and 53 minutes of suffering and then an explosion. Somehow they had found a way through. On the front of the sports daily AS, the headline said: “From panic to the semi-final.” Madrid had escaped thanks to a “miracle”. In El Mundo, Orfeo Suárez saw Madrid still “on course for their Holy Grail, like Christ resurrected. Cristiano, taking his place standing there in the form of a cross, was
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as implacable in applying punishment as he was suffering in martyrdom”. Suffering was the word. “Journalists are supposed to say things like: ‘How lovely football is,’” Bustos wrote. “Lovely? Bollocks.”