Chicharito scores winner to send Real Madrid to Champions League semis

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Chicharito scores winner to send Real Madrid to Champions League semis
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It's been a long and difficult season for Mexico hero Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. But on Wednesday, at last, he got to be a hero for Real Madrid, poking home the 88th-minute winner against crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinals tie for a dramatic 1-0 victory.

His tally was the only goal in two games between last year's finalists, sending Real into the semifinals for a fifth year in a row in the campaign to defend its title.

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How this would all play out was fairly predictable. Real Madrid would attack. Atletico Madrid would not, lurking on the counterattack while relying on its sturdy defense. It was a carbon copy of the first leg when a frustrated Real never managed to break through.

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And that's exactly what happened. Chicharito, who has hardly played a part in this Real Madrid season while on loan from Manchester United, got the rare start in place of his injured fellow striker Karim Benzema. After a dozen minutes, he got a first look but smashed the ball into the side netting from inside the box. In the next moment, Cristiano Ronaldo dragged a shot just wide of Jan Oblak's goal.

Those two would get chances just past the half hour mark as well, when Chicharito got himself onto the end of a cross but headed high and Oblak just about blocked a long, knuckling Ronaldo free kick.

Just before halftime, a disastrous Saul turnover resulted in a chance for Ronaldo, but Oblak denied him point-blank, proving once again that he has been a worthy successor to Thibaut Courtois. And then Chicharito arguably deserved a penalty when Diego Godin shoved him into Oblak mid-air. But none was given.

At the other end, Iker Casillas wasn't really tested in the first half. And that wouldn't really change in the second act. Once again, it would be Real and Chicharito who got the chances. Just after the half, Hernandez finally found same space deep behind the line. Isco set him up but he twirled and struck his finish inches wide from an acute angle.

Atletico's Arda Turan managed to get himself sent off for sticking his cleat through Sergio Ramos's on a bouncing 50-50 ball in the 76th minute. And soon thereafter Hernandez saw yet another chance pushed inches wide by Oblak.

Then, finally, Ronaldo struck up a fine give-and-go combination with James Rodriguez to work his way into the box, whereupon the Portuguese, having attracted all the defenders, laid it off for Chicharito. That's when he finally managed to beat Oblak for the winner.

The game remained fierce and physical, but with Atletico down a man and a goal, the city's little brothers had run out of answers. And Chicharito's season wasn't such a failure after all.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.