However much he might blame rotten luck or fatigue for Real Madrid’s failure to get past Bayern Munich on Wednesday, it was Jose Mourinho’s caution that possibly cost the Spaniards a place in next month’s Champions League final.
They were eliminated at the last-four hurdle for a second straight season as they failed to hold on to a 2-0 lead on the night, curbed their attacking instincts more and more as the game wore on and were ultimately undone by the brilliance of Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in a nervy penalty shootout.
"The match went through many different phases after our second goal. We can’t attack all the time," Sergio Ramos, who blasted his penalty over the bar, told reporters.
Everything went to plan in the opening 15 minutes, with Real racing ahead in the semi-final second leg at their Bernabeu stadium - where they had netted 22 goals in five previous Champions League outings this season - thanks to a double from Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, after Bayern pulled a goal back through Arjen Robben’s penalty in the 27th minute to make it 3-3 on aggregate, Real seemed to take their foot off the gas and the Germans settled into the game and began to control possession in a manner rarely witnessed at the giant arena.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, another hero of the night after netting the penalty that sent Bayern through, expertly marshalled the midfield and was ably supported by Luiz Gustavo and Toni Kroos.
Real’s defensive midfield pair of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira huffed and puffed but were unable to exert the control that would have allowed them to get the ball forward more often to the lethal Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria.
Bayern’s defenders, particularly Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng, played solidly and intelligently with the two centre backs occasionally striding out to join the attack and Philipp Lahm and David Alaba roving down either flank.
SHIP SAILED Mourinho threw on playmaker Kaka for Di Maria with 15 minutes of regulation time left but his next change midway through extra time was to take off Mesut Ozil, who created Ronaldo’s second and has the most assists of any Real man this term, and replace him with defensive midfielder Esteban Granero.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain had been deployed a few minutes earlier in a straight swap for Benzema but by then there was a sense that the ship had sailed and Real had missed a chance to take the game by the throat.
"We had big problems in the first 15 minutes and then we played some excellent football for long periods," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, who led Real to a Champions League title in 1998, told reporters.
Mourinho, whose failure to reach the final will be a bitter blow after Real’s arch rivals Barcelona were knocked out by former club Chelsea on Tuesday, suggested the packed calendar had helped bring about Real’s failure.
Real and Barca locked horns in the La Liga ‘Clasico’ on Saturday and Real’s 2-1 win at the Nou Camp put them seven points clear with four games left and within touching distance of a first title in four years.
"The final will be contested by the fifth-placed English team (Chelsea are actually sixth) and the second in Germany, who have been playing with their B teams while Barcelona and Real Madrid had to play the most important game of the season on Saturday," Mourinho told a news conference.
"When I said they had to change the calendar in Italy and they did it I was pleased," added the former Inter Milan manager, who was bidding to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three clubs.
"Here in Spain I don’t command the same respect, power or value of opinions.
"We started the most important month of the season playing midweek La Liga games and that’s why things happen like this."
Mourinho now needs to rally his troops for Sunday’s La Liga game at home to Sevilla, when Barca play at Rayo Vallecano.