Real Madrid's dreams of a UEFA Champions League final at their Bernabeu home were crushed by Lyon tonight, as the Spanish giants were knocked out at the last-16 stage for the sixth successive season.
Cristiano Ronaldo's seventh goal in this season's competition gave the hosts the perfect start on six minutes and made it 1-1 on aggregate. However, Los Merengues failed to make the most of a series of first-half chances, and they paid the cost as Miralem Pjanic smashed home a 75th-minute equaliser for Les Gones to send Manuel Pellegrini's men crashing out.
With this year's final being staged at the Bernabeu, Real had high hopes of reaching that final showpiece and the post-mortem in the Spanish capital will almost certainly leave Pellegrini under more pressure. It would have been a different story, though, if they had not been so profligate in the opening period, with Gonzalo Higuain the chief culprit.
Real could not have asked for a better start as they came out flying. There were just 16 seconds on the clock when Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was called into action first, coming out to deny Kaka, and the pressure quickly paid dividends.
Guti's ball over the top from inside his own half put Ronaldo in on the left, and his low, left-footed drive fizzed under Lloris, who might have felt he should have done better. After that Lyon had to withstand an onslaught. Kaka, Ronaldo and Higuain all went close before the latter missed an incredible opportunity to put Real 2-0 up in the 25th minute.
Some home fans must already have been celebrating as Higuain broke in behind the Lyon defence and skipped past Lloris, but with an open goal to aim for the Argentina international's shot from the edge of the box hit the near post. The 22-year-old then spurned another great opening two minutes later, although this time he was denied by a fine one-handed stop by the Lyon goalkeeper.
It was all Real in the opening 34 minutes, but the French heavyweights warned their rivals how precarious their situation still was as they created a decent opening of their own. A deflected cross reached Jean Makoun eight yards out, but the midfielder, whose stunning 25-yard strike gave Lyon their first-leg lead, mis-kicked the ball and let the Spaniards off the hook.
Makoun's involvement in the game would not be much longer as he was one of two men replaced at half-time by Lyon coach Claude Puel, Jean-Alain Boumsong also making way with Kim Kallstrom and Maxime Gonalons the players on. And that move turned out to be key as the visitors looked a totally different side after the break.
The first promising sign came immediately after the restart when Gonalons won a header at the far post, but his effort cleared the crossbar. Sidney Govou then blazed another good opening over in the 52nd minute, before Lisandro tested Iker Casillas from 25 yards as Lyon started the second period on fire.
Real tried to stem the tide with efforts from Kaka and Esteban Granero, but neither hit the target and it was Lyon who continued to look the more threatening. And the French outfit would end up putting paid to their opponents' dreams as Pjanic picked up a lay-off from Lisandro inside the area before thumping a half-volley past Casillas. There was no way back for Real thereafter, and Lyon could have added to the home side's agony as Lisandro and Cesar Delgado both missed chances when clean through at the end.
"We had a good first half, we had two good chances but we didn't convert them," said Pellegrini. "After the break the team were concerned about the 1-0 scoreline until Lyon scored. It was everyone's hope to be able to play the final at the Bernabeu. The changing room is hurting."
Lyon coach Claude Puel was understandably delighted with his side's turnaround after being under pressure for most of the opening 45 minutes. "We could have done much better in the first half, we were against the ropes and rode our luck," he said. "We proved at the end of the first half we could get back into the game. In the second we did very well, we had much more quality in our game. We should have done that in the first half."
"They (Madrid) were very good in the first half. They gave everything, they created a lot of chances and we had to change our tactics slightly with fresh players coming in in the second half. We kept possession much better. We know Real Madrid like to have possession and we took that away from them in the second half."