De Bruyne rocket rips through Real Madrid and fires Manchester City belief


The ball was there to hit and how Kevin De Bruyne hit it. It was midway through the second half, Manchester City were behind to Vinícius Júnior’s scorching 36th‑minute blast and the feeling was starting to take hold that Real Madrid had this Champions League semi-final first leg exactly where they wanted it.

For City, the demons circled at the venue where it had all gone horribly wrong for them in the second leg of last season’s semi-final; the collapse at the end of normal time, two goals shipped to Rodrygo after the 90th minute, Karim Benzema’s extra‑time winner. Madrid were en route to their 14th title.

De Bruyne sliced through it all when he cut across the ball with the laces of his right boot, 25 yards out and centrally placed after Ilkay Gündogan’s layoff. Boy, did it fizz. It was always likely to take something special to beat Thibaut Courtois. This was it. Whatever Vinícius could do, so could De Bruyne.

Nothing would be settled here, everybody knew that. But at full‑time it was easy to feel that City were the happier with the draw. The impression would harden when Carlo Ancelotti, the Madrid manager, talked about the control he felt his team had enjoyed, how they restricted City to precious few clear-cut chances.

Is the holy grail edging nearer for City? Benzema with a far‑post header and the substitute, Aurélien Tchouaméni, with another vicious drive – the motif of the evening – extended Ederson towards the end but Madrid could not find the winner.

Tchouaméni’s attempt came in the 90th minute; there would be no late voodoo this time and, when the music had subsided after full-time it was the travelling City fans who made their voices heard. They had suffered last season, locked into their enclosure for what seemed like an age after the defeat, stunned into silence. They believe it will finish differently in the return next Wednesday.

Pep Guardiola had avoided any public acknowledgement of the impact of the tie here last season but it was not to say that his mind was free of it. Or that he had not addressed the subject in private with his players. It was plainly a part of it, Rodri admitting on Monday that he was driven to avenge the heartbreak.

It felt like the ultimate psychological test, Madrid bringing the theatre, too. No club does these kind of nights quite like them, certainly in terms of grandness, the projection of who they are, the self-assurance. There had been the usual understatement in the giant pre-match tifo. “El Rey y Su Copa” read the lettering on either side of an image of a viking royal, his hands on the European Cup; the number 14 prominent. “The king and his cup.”

It was City that settled the quicker, hogging possession, dictating the tempo and what was noticeable at the outset was how little pressure Madrid put on the ball. City were able to play and they had sightings of goal, Courtois asked to make four saves in the first 16 minutes, albeit none that overly stretched him.

The best was a push around the post to keep out a low Rodri drive on 14 minutes. The opening for Erling Haaland moments later was the clearest, De Bruyne having ushered him up the inside left. The angle was not favourable. Haaland dragged straight at Courtois and he would also thump a header at the goalkeeper. De Bruyne had been the first City player to test him.

Madrid were unconcerned, Ancelotti feeling that City’s possession was largely sterile. His team processed the City patterns and they worked their way into the tie, their midfield three coming to control the visitors’ threat between the lines. Vinícius and Benzema flickered.

The breakthrough goal was a mixture of beauty and brutality, the former provided by Luka Modric’s outside-of-the-boot return flick to Eduardo Camavinga deep on the Madrid left, which got the latter moving. When he found Vinícius, the forward allowed the ball to run under his studs, taking Gündogan out of the action. Now came the power. The shot from the edge of the area was aimed towards Ederson’s right‑hand post and it positively ripped past him.

City felt a bit of rough stuff before the interval, Dani Carvajal barging Jack Grealish into the advertising boards; Toni Kroos booked for a bad tackle on Gündogan. Grealish pushed a hand up at Carvajal to draw a shameful over-reaction from the full-back. The referee, Artur Dias, did not buy it.

What did City have in the second half? Haaland almost got on to a Gündogan pass in the 56th minute only for David Alaba to move across and make a fine block tackle. Antonio Rüdiger celebrated it like a goal. Alaba and Rüdiger played Haaland superbly, giving him little space.

City could not take their eyes off Benzema, who had gone close after the restart, and Madrid had a swagger in their step. Their threat on the break was clear. But back came City. Back came De Bruyne.

The equaliser was sparked when Rodri stepped up to intercept Camavinga’s risky pass out of defence, intended for Rodrygo and, when City worked it for De Bruyne, his shot rocked the Bernabéu. Further back in the buildup, Ancelotti insisted that the ball had gone out of play and he would be booked for his protests. All eyes now turn to the Etihad Stadium.