UCL Quarter Final Review
It’s been a week of total drama in Europe where the mighty have fallen, the weak have fought a good fight and like a popular Nigerian parlance goes: the table has been shaken beneath some top teams.
Like I pointed out in my first post on this column, the Uefa Champions League is a league where dead men walk and this was at full display at the quarter final stage. If someone is having difficulty understanding what a miracle is, just tell them to start watching the Champions League knockout stage.
A lot has happened already and we will quickly review how the last stage of this competition has paned out.
1. The Miracle of Rome: What a night of passionate football on Roma’s part and lacklustre football on Barcelona’s part. Someone arguably concluded that the match at the Stadio Olympico in Rome was Barcelona’s worst outing since 2005.
In a night where all Barcelona needed was just to play their well known game of hoarding possession and winding down the time, Roma came out like hungry lions and Barcelona was reduced to look like La Liga team fighting against relegation. The first leg at the Camp Nou saw Roma go down 4-1 to a Barcelona team who were not even at their best and majority of those in the footballing world concluded that the return leg in Rome will just be a formality as the tie was already over but alas, the unxpected happened when Roma knowing all they needed was to score 3 goals and stop Barcelona from scoring carried out the task to utmost perfection. Roma started like a team that knew they could win and they were rewarded with an early goal from Edin Dzeko which was followed up by a well taken penalty by Daniel De Rossi, then a sublime header from Manolas in the 81st minute and then turnaround was complete. Barcelona was so poor that even before Roma scored they third goal, they were already tipped to win. It was no longer a matter of if but when Roma would score.
Roma will go into the Semi final with the confidence that they can win this competition and any team they will be facing should be cautious because the men from Rome can hurt when you least expect.
2. Pep loses to his Nemesis again: If there is any coach that knows how to beat Pep Guardiola, it is definitely Jurgen Klopp. The Guardiola tutored Manchester City went into the return leg of their Quarter Final fixture hoping they could turn around a 3-0 deficit and a 2nd minute goal from Gabriel Jesus gave them a glimmer of hope that the feat was achievable but the Jurgen Klopp tutored Liverpool held on superbly and with time winding down, City had a goal controversially disallowed, hit the woodwork and conceded 2 goals to effectively kill the tie. Liverpool knew all they needed was an away goal and they duly had what they were hoping for when Mo Salah capitalized on some bizarre defending from City to level the score on the night and effectively end the tie. Roberto Firmino later added salt to City’s injury when he intercepted a pass from Kyle Walker and precisely placed the ball into the bottom corner beyond the reach of the helpless Ederson.
Though Liverpool rode on the wings of luck at the Etihad as City could have gotten the second goal late in the first half if not for the woodwork and a controversial decision from the referee to deny Sane his goal, they would go into the Semis with the confidence that they have eliminated a team considered arguably as the best in Europe this season. Liverpool will know they stand a good chance of winning the trophy if they keep their cool and play as effective as they did against City.
3. A Night to Remember in Madrid: In what would have been termed the greatest comeback in European football, Juventus almost stunned the footballing world by racing into a 3-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabeau to bring the tie level on 3-3 against a Real Madrid team people expected to consolidate on the win in Turin last week. Juventus produced a performance that would have earned them a place in the Champions League book of records had it not been for a controversial 94th minute penalty awarded to Real Madrid and converted by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Juventus came into the match in Madrid’s own stadium with the intention of bowing out in style but had their hopes elevated after two first half goals from Mario Mandzukic. They started the second half knowing another goal would level the aggregate thereby making the game poised for an intriguing finish and they were duly rewarded by a goal from Blaise Matuidi.
With the score now miraculously at 3-3, both teams knew any goal from either of them would kill the tie off and it was Real Madrid that got that goal when they converted a penalty awarded in controversial circumstances for a percieved foul on Lucas Vazquez by Mehdi Benatia.
Juventus will feel hard done after they put up a fight to remember only to lose to a penalty that could have been waved away but they can hold their head high with the confidence that they gave it all they had. Madrid on the other hand would consider themselves lucky to be in the Semis after scaling through on a night where Juventus shook the table on which they were standing and they nearly fell off.
4. Mission accomplished in Munich: On a night where many expected no surprise in Munich, Bayern scaled through the hurdle of Sevilla by consolidating on their 2-1 victory in Spain last week. In what was the most drama-free tie in the Quarter Final, Bayern held their own against a Sevilla team who knew beating Bayern would require a miracle. They (Bayern) though missing a flurry of chances comfortably moved into the Semis with a 2-1 aggregate win after a goalless draw at the Allianz arena.
Bayern now know they’ve got a real chance of winning the trophy this season after the elimination of most of the teams that could have been a threat to their ambitions.