Madrid - FC Schalke 04 are out of this season's UEFA Champions League campaign, but after Tuesday night's showing at Real Madrid CF, they and the rest of the world know that the Royal Blues belong in the knockout rounds of Europe's premier club competition.

Domestically, the Gelsenkirchen club are facing a tough season run-in to ensure their seat in the Champions League next term, but in beating Real Madrid CF 4-3 in their own back yard and coming within one goal of producing arguably the biggest comeback in the tournament’s history, Schalke did themselves and the Bundesliga proud.

Höwedes: ‘We showed guts’

“We were excellent,” said defender and captain Benedikt Höwedes. “We showed a lot of guts and didn’t let ourselves become unsettled by the crowd. It’s a shame we couldn’t score the fifth goal we needed, but I’m excited by what this team can do. Every one of us put in a massive shift and showed that as a team we can play really good football.”

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, scorer of two against his former club, was similarly enamoured by how a young team had played with such freedom at the home of the defending European champions. “We attacked them early and took control of the game, and after we scored, we knew there was more in it for us. To miss out by just one goal is obviously tough to take.”

Clear and deserved winners

Schalke were fresher, quicker and more decisive than the ten-time European Cup winners from the first whistle, producing the type of football that not only embarrassed the hosts but also provided a stark contrast to some of the functional, industrious play that the team have produced since head coach Roberto Di Matteo took over in October.

The Italian made no secret of his disappointment following the limp and lifeless defeat to arch rivals Borussia Dortmund 11 days ago, but since then, Schalke have scored seven goals, beating TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 3-1 and ending Real’s ten-game winning run in the Champions League, as well as becoming the first club to win in the competition at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for almost four years.

A celebration of Schalke youth

Despite the loss, every Schalke player left the pitch with his head held high, but it was youngsters Max Meyer and Leroy Sane that perhaps left the biggest impression not only on Real, but also the home fans and the millions watching on television. Meyer was a blur of energy that Los Blancos could not live with, setting up the second goal and creating a host of other opportunities throughout, and more than justifying his recall following the Dortmund game.

Sane, meanwhile, delivered a performance that will live long in the memory. A first-half substitute for the injured Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, the young forward scored a stunning equaliser from 20 yards and was then inches away from doubling his tally as full time approached. For a 19-year-old making his Champions League debut, his was an unforgettable display.

“It was great to make my [Champions League] debut here and score, but it wasn’t quite enough for a perfect night,” said Sane afterwards, before adding with a modesty that belies his tender years: “It’s disappointing that we couldn’t quite manage it, but at the end of the day we can say that this was a good performance from us. We played without fear.”

Bernie Reeves

Meyer and Sane are just two of the many graduates from Schalke's famed youth academy. Find out more on the Knappenschmiede here, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: