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The anatomy of a remontada: history and myths of Real Madrid’s famous European comebacks

SANTIAGO BERNABEU, MADRID – In 2016, the son of one of the men most synonymous with Real Madrid’s comebacks had just about had enough of the fuss.

“Leave my father alone, every time you mention his name to make a comeback we lose,” tweeted Roberto, the offspring of Madrid hero Juanito, after recently appointed head coach Zinedine Zidane and his players to a 2 -0 lead had slipped away. leg defeat at Wolfsburg.

Former Spanish striker Juanito played in the great Madrid teams of the 1980s alongside the likes of Jorge Valdano and Emiliano Butragueno, who, like the current generation, never seemed to know when they were being beaten.

A tenacious performer who, for better or worse, generally pushed everything to the limit (see his shocking 1987 strike on Bayern Munich’s Lothar Matthaus for the lamentable side of that coin), Juanito epitomized Madrid’s desire to see it through to the end to fight and claimed he would have done so. would have been an ultra on the terraces if he hadn’t been a player.

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“Ninety minutes at the Bernabeu is a very long time,” Juanito famously warned Inter Milan after the Serie A side claimed a 2-0 victory in the first leg of the 1984/85 UEFA Cup semi-final at San Siro.

It’s certainly been a long time at Madrid’s famous home ground. Just ask Bayern Munich, who led 1-0 in the 88th minute of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semi-final.

After Juanito informed Inter, Madrid promptly won 3–0 and lifted the trophy in the final. They did it again the following year, losing 3–1 in Italy before beating Inter 5–1 after extra time. At that point it had become a ridiculous habit.

How did Real Madrid get their reputation for Remontadas?

In the 1985/86 round, Borussia Mönchengladbach defeated Los Blancos 5-1, but lost 4-0 at the Bernabéu, losing away goals. At the same stage last season, Anderlecht won 3-0 against Madrid, before being defeated 6-1 in the return.

These logic-defying performances were attributed to the ‘Spirit of Juanito’, something Madridistas celebrated even more poignantly after the player’s tragic death in a car accident in 1992.

But by the time his son Roberto felt compelled to speak out, Madrid’s reputation for remontadas had become somewhat weak.

In 2012/2013, 4-1 against Jürgen Klopp’s rampant Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals of the Champions League, Jose Mourinho’s Madrid failed to turn things around, despite all kinds of talk to the contrary.

In the Champions League era, Madrid were more likely to lose from a winning position than to make a comeback.

Such turnarounds were a fading memory of decades ago, when Roberto made his case and Madrid faced another Bundesliga-created exit.

In the 2013/2014 quarter-final home leg against Wolfsburg, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, and a new era of Madrid, driven by a heady combination of confidence, skill and apparent destiny, began.

There were no other comebacks comparable to Wolfsburg’s quarter-final under Zidane, but it set in motion a remarkable run of three consecutive Champions League victories at a time when Madrid could rarely, if ever, be considered Europe’s elite side.

They just never knew when they were being hit.

Is Bayern Munich Real Madrid’s best comeback in the Champions League

Carlo Ancelotti’s second spell at the helm has reintroduced Madrid to their taste for the fantastic.

In 2021/22, inspired by the indomitable Karim Benzema, they acted as a kind of comic book superhero version of Real Madrid.

In the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain, they were knocked out three-quarters of the way and trailed 2-0 before Benzema produced a brilliant hat-trick.

An even better treble from the French centre-forward put Madrid 3-1 up and into the quarter-finals against Chelsea. But apparently they love escapology so much that they decided to come up with one.

Ninety minutes at the Bernabeu proved to be a very long one for Ancelotti’s men as the Premier League side completely dominated and established a 3-0 lead. Then Rodrygo whipped in a pass from the gods from Luka Modric and Benzema popped up in the extra period to prove that 120 minutes at the Bernabeu are even longer.

There was an even more bizarre robbery in the semi-final against Manchester City. Madrid were largely outplayed in the first leg, but a Benzema brace and a solo goal from Vinicius Junior kept them at 4-3. Heading into stoppage time at the Bernabeu, Riyad Mahrez had scored the only goal of the match to increase the Premier League champions’ overall advantage.

No problem. Substitute Rodrygo scored twice in an injury time minute to force the extra period when a Benzema penalty settled matters.

Madrid defeated another English team in the final, beating Liverpool 1-0 in Paris, but their joust with City has defined recent seasons. A 4-0 win in the second leg in Manchester gave Pep Guardiola’s men a measure of revenge in the 2023 semi-finals on their way to victory. In 2024, Madrid stubbornly clung to victory on the same ground on penalties.

That set up Bayern’s semi-final and gave Joselu the chance to become Juanito’s most unlikely heir yet in this incredible story that continues to spawn new chapters.