MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo became the all-time leading goalscorer in European competitions as Real Madrid sneaked into the quarter-finals of the Champions League 5-4 on aggregate despite losing a seven-goal thriller 4-3 to Schalke on Tuesday (Mar 10).
The holders looked well set for a place in the last eight for a fifth consecutive season after cruising to a 2-0 win in Gelsenkirchen three weeks ago, but they were given an almighty scare as Schalke twice took the lead in the first-half through Christian Fuchs and Klass-Jan Huntelaar.
Ronaldo twice responded with textbook headers to take his tally in European competitions to 78 and surpass former Real and Schalke legend Raul in the process.
Karim Benzema then put the hosts in front on the night early in the second-half, but Schalke earned a fully merited win thanks to further strikes from Leroy Sande and Huntelaar.
“It is clear I feel very sorry because everyone has seen we played very badly. This is not good for the image of the club,” said Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti after a fifth defeat in 15 games this year. “It is normal that the players lack confidence. I think we have dipped a bit physically too. We had problems in every aspect of the game: offensive; defensive; desire; fight and concentration.”
Schalke boss Roberto di Matteo, meanwhile, was left with the bittersweet feeling of having pulled off a stunning victory but still being eliminated. “We have mixed feelings,” said the man who won the competition with Chelsea in 2012. “The team showed a really high level. We tried everything to stay in the competition. Tonight we won the match, but nevertheless it wasn’t enough.”
Real came into the game unbeaten in 21 Champions League games at the Bernabeu, but that record seemed under threat from the off in a wretched performance that was only salvaged by Ronaldo’s prediatory instincts.
Despite their 2-0 deficit from the first-leg Schalke started brightly and should have been in front when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting side-footed wide from the impressive Max Mayer’s cut-back.
The visitors did go in front on 20 minutes when Tranquillo Barnetta’s cross found its way through to Fuchs and the Austrian’s drive had too much power for Iker Casillas. Madrid responded to that shock just five minutes later when Ronaldo rose highest to power home Toni Kroos’s corner.
However, the chances continued to flow for Schalke as Huntelaar nearly capitalised on a short passback by Raphael Varane and then struck the crossbar with a spectacular volley.
The former Madrid striker did find the net at the third time of asking in quick succession as he pounced after Casillas could only parry Meyer’s low effort.
Again the lead only last five minutes as right on the stroke of half-time Ronaldo headed home his historic goal from a sumptuous Fabio Coentrao cross.
The holders finally looked to have put their place in the last eight beyond any doubt eight minutes after the break when Benzema showed his composure in front of goal to leave Timon Wellenreuther on the floor before slotting home.
Yet, Schalke refused to lie down and were back in the game just before the hour mark when some more atrocious defending by Madrid allowed 19-year-old substitute Sane plenty of space to curl into the far corner.
Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti then called on Luka Modric on his first appearance after a four-month layoff through injury and Marcelo to restore some order from the bench.
The Croatian’s presence helped settle Madrid’s nerves and Wellenreuther had to be alert to tip a rising over from his compatriot Kroos over the bar.
However, another defensive lapse allowed Huntelaar in behind the Madrid defence once more six minutes from time and he fired a stunning finish in off the underside of the bar.
And Casillas made some amends for his previous errors by flying to his right to make a desperate save from Benedikt Hoewedes to prevent Schalke pulling off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition.