There is another match to come but Real Madrid would be entitled to feel that their work here is done. After six successive seasons without winning a single knockout tie in the tournament they consider their own, a third successive Champions League semi-final beckons for José Mourinho's team thanks to an ultimately comfortable victory over Galatasaray.

Fatih Terim, the visitors' coach, was left complaining of two possible penalties that were not given: one for a handball by Sami Khedira in the first half, the other for a foul on Burak Yilmaz by Sergio Ramos at 2-0. "Maybe Madrid's name affected the referee," he said. "He lacked courage."

Terim's side started boldly but that may also have been part of their undoing; when the final whistle arrived, the game had long since ended as a contest. So too, in all likelihood, had the tie. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín scored to put Madrid in a position so strong that Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos could seek out the yellow cards that see them sit out the second leg and arrive clear of cards in the semi-final.

"They need a miracle but there are miracles in football," Mourinho said. "The history of football is full of miracles, so why can't they dream of a miracle. I have enough experience to understand that we have a very good result but it is not over and I will try everything in my hands to persuade my players that it is not over."

After the game, Terim admitted that the difference in quality between the two sides was "too big". Before it, he had insisted that his side would be true to their attacking philosophy, promising: "We'll play in a way that will make our supporters proud." Didier Drogba started up front alongside Yilmaz, the Champions League's joint top scorer, with Wesley Sneijder behind. Felipe Melo sat at the heart of midfield with Hamit Altintop narrow to one side and Inan Selcuk to the other. At left-back, the winger Albert Riera. On the right, Emmanuel Eboué was more winger than full-back.

Madrid had conceded more goals than any other team left in the competition on 11. But the question was whether Galatasaray's formation, devised since the arrival of Sneijder and Drogba in the winter, and Terim's bold philosophy, which has deeper roots, would leave Galatasaray exposed to Madrid's deadliest weapon: the counterattack. When granted space, there are few sides like Mourinho's. "They like to attack," said Ronaldo, "and that suits us." So it proved: Madrid had the lead after just nine minutes.

Alonso slotted the ball to Mesut Ozil who played off Benzema and then rolled a neatly weighted pass into the area, between the centre-back and right-back positions. Ronaldo territory, in other words. The Portuguese dashed in, took one touch with his right foot and lifted a lovely delicate shot over Fernando Muslera and into the corner with his left. It was his 32nd goal in just 37 Champions League appearances for Madrid, his 191st in 189 games overall.

Galatasaray swiftly had the chance to equalise when Yilmaz let Eboué's pass run between his legs to Drogba, who turned Raphaël Varane sharply on the edge of the area only to strike well over the bar, and just after that Ozil was wriggling away from challenges and finding Ronaldo in the area once more. This time Semih Kaya made the challenge but, with Sneijder then sending a shot spearing wide at the other end, this was looking like the open game that Terim had promised but few in Spain truly expected.

Only quarter of an hour had gone and, speaking of unexpected, Michael Essien had already nutmegged Sneijder and Altintop had turned Ronaldo. The chances kept coming, too. Ozil's shot was saved by Muslera. Drogba's long-range effort was half-saved by Diego López. Eboué tried to pull one back for his fellow Ivorian. And Sneijder's header came back off Khedira. Yet the momentum was Madrid's and they had a second just before the half-hour when Essien's cross from the right swung into the area and Ronaldo leapt for the ball.

Although he failed to reach it, the jump turned into the decoy of a volleyball player at the net. Rising with him, both Eboué and Kaya missed it and it dropped for Benzema, lurking just behind. There had been a doubt about whether he or Higuaín would start but he controlled and scored his 30th goal in 50 Champions League games from close range.

The semi-final beckoned already: Madrid were finding space and control, although there was a warning on the stroke of half-time when López stopped Eboué's shot, the full-back looking more useful in Madrid's area than his own.

A new half suggested a new approach: Terim replaced the largely ineffective Sneijder with Gokhan Zan and went to three at the back. If that theoretically freed up Riera and Eboué to advance up their wings with greater freedom, they largely had anyway, and it looked more like an attempt to limit the damage and return to Istanbul intact; 2-0 would be recoverable, three might not. To start with, it appeared it could work. Ronaldo's shot, easily saved by Muslera, was the first moment of note in the first 15 minutes of the second period.

The sensation was a fleeting one.

Soon after, Alonso scooped a clever pass into the area for Angel Di María, whose finish, spinning to face goal and taking the shot on the bounce, was weak. What progress Galatasaray made was tentative and although Madrid kept possession and kept looking for their opportunity, they partly settled into a new, slower and more patient routine. There was little sense in exposing themselves to an away goal and another home one arrived anyway. Galatasaray's plan, if that is what it had been, lay in tatters.

Higuaín had not even been on the pitch 10 minutes when Alonso's free-kick found him to the right of the penalty spot and, twisting his neck, he turned his header into the net.