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Keylor Navas and Real Madrid advance to Champions League final

Keylor Navas’ incredible 2015-2016 season is about to get the grand finale it deserves.

The Costa Rican goalkeeper helped lift Real Madrid to the Champions League final Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Manchester City in the second leg of the semifinals.

Navas, who has recorded 11 shutouts in 12 career games in Europe’s biggest club tournament, was barely called upon in the game that Real Madrid controlled from early on.

In the 20th minute, Madrid’s Gareth Bale took a feed from Dani Carvajal and corked a beautiful ball into goal to score the first and only goal.

Minutes later, as Man City was trying to mount an attack of its own, Navas squashed the opportunity when he dove to the ground to intercept a cross in the box. Navas was called into action again at the 40th minute when he nabbed a free kick in front of the net.

Manchester City’s Fernandinho nearly shot in a goal past a diving Navas at the end of the first half, but it landed just outside the post.

Real Madrid’s Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas dives for a ball during the UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 4, 2016.

Javier Soriano/AFP

The Tico wasn’t seen in action again until Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero fired a shot just over the crossbar in the 88th minute beyond the reach of Navas.

Navas seemed to roll his ankle just a minute later when clearing a ball far from the net. He limped in obvious pain for the remainder of the game after landing awkwardly on his left leg.

Assuming he’s not too injured to play, Navas would become the first male Costa Rican football player to ever play in a Champions League final when Madrid meets league and cross-town rival Atlético Madrid in the May 28th championship game. Shirley Cruz, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain in the Women’s Champions League, is the first Costa Rican of any gender to make it to a Champions League final. Her team lost to Frankfurt in the championship last year.

Following Bale’s goal, Madrid’s offense followed up with a flurry of pressure and numerous near-misses. In the second half, Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart denied Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo on back-to-back opportunities to somehow keep the game at 1-0.

The trip to the Champions League final comes as sweet revenge for a defense that has been maligned all year by inconsistent play. After a 0-0 tie in the first leg in which neither Manchester City nor Real Madrid was able to establish rhythm, Los Merengues asserted themselves from the early goings of the second and final leg Wednesday. Defensively, they again made Manchester City’s talented set of forwards look out of sync.

This marks the 14th time in club history that Real Madrid has made it to the Champions League final, where they have won 10 times.

When Real Madrid meets Atlético Madrid in the one-match final at the end of the month, it will be the second time in the past three years the two Madrileño teams have met in Europe’s biggest club tournament. In the 2014 Champions League final, a late goal from captain Sergio Ramos granted Real Madrid extra time with Atlético where Los Merengues went on a goal-scoring barrage to win 4-1.

The last time the intra-city foes met in La Liga play this season, on February 27, Atlético won 1-0, despite spectacular play in goal by Navas.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that Navas was set to become the first Costa Rican to play in a Champions League final. That is incorrect. Costa Rican player Shirley Cruz, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain in the Women’s Champions League, is the first Costa Rican of any gender to make it to a Champions League final. Our sincere apologies for the error. 

Contact Michael Krumholtz at mkrumholtz@ticotimes.net

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