Paris: Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid will find out their Champions League semi-final opponents on Friday as they continue their bid for a third straight title, with Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Roma the only remaining challengers to their crown.
Zinedine Zidane's men came through one of the most dramatic European ties in recent memory to reach the last four as a last-gasp Ronaldo spot-kick finally saw off a valiant Juventus on Wednesday.
Real, a record 12-time European champions, threw away a 3-0 first-leg lead at the Santiago Bernabeu, only for Ronaldo's penalty in the eighth minute of injury-time to send them through in dramatic fashion, even as Juventus great Gianluigi Buffon was sent off.
"It was a very long game and it serves as a lesson that in football nothing is guaranteed and that we have to fight until the end," Ronaldo said. "Step by step, now we're into the semi-finals."
It has been far from a comfortable road to the semi-final for Real, who finished second to Tottenham in their group before the Juventus scare, but that won't bother the Spanish giants, who have never won the European Cup without losing a match.
Only three sides in history have won the competition three years or more in a row — Real from 1956-1960, Ajax from 1971-73 and Bayern Munich from 1974-76.
But Real are now three games away from becoming the first team to achieve the feat twice, and also make it four titles in five years, having also clinched the title in 2014.
Zidane will have some key decisions to make before the semi-final first leg in less than two weeks' time, after hauling off Gareth Bale and Casemiro at half-time against Juventus.
Bayern are in the pot for the sixth time in seven seasons after falling to Real in the quarter-finals last year, with fellow five-time champions Liverpool back in the semis for the first time since 2008.
But Roma are the real surprise package, after overturning a 4-1 first-leg deficit to stun Barcelona and end a 34-year wait for a semi-final spot dating back to their 1984 final loss on home soil to Liverpool.
After their famous fightback, Roma coach Eusebio di Francesco understandably said he's confident of reaching the final in Kiev on 26 May, no matter who his side draw. "We must aim for Kiev," di Francesco said. "Why not believe in something even greater after such a match? If you come all this way and get to the semi-finals, why shouldn't you believe in getting to the final in Kiev?"
Liverpool have plenty of history to fall back on, ahead of a possible repeat of the 1984 final win over Roma or a rematch of the 1981 final against Real Madrid. But although it is new ground for the current side, manager Jurgen Klopp thinks his young outfit are getting better and better in the biggest matches.
"We mature constantly. The boys get more and more used to situations like that," said Klopp after beating Premier League champions-elect Manchester City for the third time in a row.
"If you could say something bad about us in the past few months, it is on a good day we can beat everybody and on a bad day we lose, (we) concede cheap goals. We work on that. We are still in a development phase, that's how it is but already we are a good team," he said.
Bayern Munich are the only team still in contention to complete a domestic league and Champions League double, having wrapped up the Bundesliga title last weekend.
A repeat of last year's epic quarter-final with Real could be on the cards, when Arturo Vidal was controversially sent off as a Ronaldo hat-trick saw the Spaniards win in extra time.
Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 13:45:30 IST