A first Champions League semifinal beckons for Wolfsburg, but the Bernabeu and Real Madrid still stand in their way. Can Dieter Hecking's crew defend a two-goal lead against the self-professed comeback kings of Europe?
Two goals to the good, plus a clean sheet at home: Wolfsburg take a sizeable advantage with them to Madrid as they seek a spot in the last four of the Champions League. However, they will be up against not only Real themselves, but also the club's European-competition tradition of the "remontada" ("comeback"). The club the Germans will face on Tuesday night have a proud history of turning ties on their heads in the second leg.
Only this footballing fortress, Real's Santiago Bernabeu stadium, stands between Wolfsburg and the semis
"Tuesday will be like a war, with 80,000 spectators; we are going to try and walk all over Wolfsburg," said Real defender Dani Carvajal, when asked to look ahead to the contest. Lucas Vasquez, meanwhile, spoke of "playing to the death," while Toni Kroos called it "an important game, in which we need goals."
Real Madrid's 'remontada' fetish
Real's "remontada" tradition is perhaps as fabled as it is faded. Derby County (1975-76), Inter Milan (84-85), Borussia Mönchengladbach (85-86) and Bayern Munich (01-02) are just some of the sides to have come a cropper in second legs of ties against the Spanish capital club. The "remontada" has quite a German feel to it, too: Seven times Real have lost first-leg games in Germany in European knockout ties before bouncing back with a win on home soil.
But since the 2002 Bernabeu fight back against Bayern, when Real won 2-0 to overturn a 2-1 defeat in Munich, Madrid have lost eight Champions League first legs - and then dropped out of the competition every time.
For coach Zinedine Zidane, Real's attacking record at home provides some hope. Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale and co. have scored two or more in 12 of their last 13 home games, averaging more than four per outing. Their only home defeat in the last 13 came against Atletico (1-0) in the Madrid derby.
"We know it will be difficult because we have to come from two goals down, but when things get tough we can do great things at the Bernabeu," Zidane said ahead of the game. As Real legend Juanito famously warned Inter in 1985: "90 minutes in the Bernabeu is a very long time."
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Cristiano Ronaldo appealed to supporters to be the 12th man on Tuesday, saying only a "perfect night" would see 10-time European champions Madrid reach the final four.
"Those of us on the pitch need to run, fight and play with intensity for 90 minutes," Ronaldo said. "Obviously, with the fans supporting us, it will be easier. I hope that it will be a magical night and I am very excited."
Wolfsburg happier to play on the counter attack?
Wolfsburg could also profit from Madrid's need to take risks and attack. The club's disappointing 1-1 draw with Mainz in the Bundesliga this weekend, compared to Real's 4-0 cruise against Eibar, came against a defensive opponent that frustrated Dieter Hecking's side at times.
Schürrle found the net against Mainz, but it was another lackluster Bundesliga showing from the Wolves
"Against Real you have a bit more space. Maybe it suits our game better to play on the counter attack," Andre Schürrle told Sky TV after the Mainz match. "It will be intense, we must be even better than in the home leg … We will all be ready 100 million percent on Tuesday. We will run as if our lives depend on it."
After a difficult season coming to terms with being consistently billed as "favorites" in Bundesliga matches, the role of counter-attacking underdog seemed to suit Wolfsburg in the first leg. Hecking has remained cautious, saying only that his side have a "realistic chance of progressing."
Unless Wolfsburg can pull off the tall task of going all the way to the final at the San Siro and winning the Champions League, there appears to be little chance of Hecking's side returning to the competition next season. They're nine points adrift of fourth place in the Bundesliga, with just five games left to play. Even qualifying for Europa League football is by no means guaranteed. But having already progressed further than ever before in the club's Champions League history, Wolfsburg could claim the most successful scalp in all of Europe en route to the semis.