"Gallant losers" isn't a tag often associated with Real Madrid. That's what they were on Tuesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu, however.
Within 15 minutes, they should have been three up. Inside five minutes, Gonzalo Higuain squandered a one-on-one when he fired straight at Roman Weidenfeller.
Mesut Ozil was then dispossessed in the box, but it dropped for Cristiano Ronaldo. Madrid's No. 7 lashed wildly over. Ozil himself then went clean through and dragged his shot wide, rather than square the ball to Ronaldo.
Each passing minute minimized chances of "La Remontada"—Spanish for "the comeback"—and Jose Mourinho's men had to wait until the 83rd minute to break the deadlock.
When it came, it came from substitute Karim Benzema, who had seemingly learned from Higuain's misses. Kaka's incisive pass found Ozil, who supplied the cross for the Frenchman to fire home.
Benzema then turned provider, cuing up Sergio Ramos to smash home and, despite battling fiercely against time, the final in London seemed possible again.
La Decima seemed possible again.
They lost their battle with time—and subsequently their battle with Dortmund, too.
Jose Mourinho's decisions on the night—Luka Modric instead of Sami Khedira, Michael Essien at right-back and the early introduction of Benzema and Kaka—were astute, but they were not enough.
After the match he was asked on English channel ITV: "Maybe next season [the Champions League] with Real?"
"Maybe not," he replied.
Three seasons after joining the current Spanish champions, and three European semifinal defeats later—the first head coach for 24 years to suffer that fate—Mourinho might be on his way out. If he is to bow out now, what sort of legacy will he leave behind in Madrid?
Simon Gleave @SimonGleave
Mourinho is the first head coach for 24 years (Beenhakker) to lose three successive semi-finals in this competition (via @2010misterchip)4/30/2013, 8:45:51 PM
He was wrestled from Inter Milan to do two things: end Barca's reign in Spain and, given his European pedigree, to win La Decima.
The first one was ticked off last season, after his debut year in charge had just brought the Copa del Rey. But any day now, that title will be lost, and Mourinho's lone La Liga success will be sandwiched in between two Barcelona triumphs.
Dethroning Pep Guardiola's side seems to carry less significance now than it did in the moment. That is partly due to how tamely Madrid have relinquished it, and partly because of a third successive failure in the club's ruthless, demon-like pursuit of their tenth European Cup.
“It is the most important game for Madrid in the last 10 years,” the Portuguese manager said before the second leg with Dortmund; he looks set to bow out having failed to get the required result in his biggest Los Blancos match.
If—and it looks extremely likely in the aftermath of European elimination—Mourinho leaves having won one La Liga and two—if they beat Atletico Madrid next month—Copa del Reys, his time cannot be considered as successful as his spells with Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.
His Madrid side will be remembered as the most expensive ever assembled, and as the side that lost three successive Champions League semifinals—the King's Cup to the European cup is like the Goya awards to the Oscars in the Spanish capital.
He can't be considered a success, but he hasn't been a dramatic failure, either; his legacy at Madrid, a club who define themselves on being bruisers in Europe, will perhaps be remembered as distinctly underwhelming.