Champions League: The Highs, The Lows
Action resumed on Tuesday and Wednesday in the ever exciting and money-spinning UEFA Champions League as 16 teams continue their quest for the ultimate prize. As the road to the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine continues to gather momentum, CRISPNG’S ISREAL IGIRI captures major highlights of some matches played in the first leg of the round of 16 fixtures so far.
City, Spurs, send warning to others in Champions League race
It was a beautiful night for English football as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City were brilliant against their opponents in their first leg ties at the Allianz Stadium and St. Jakob-Park respectively. Both teams gave football fans beautiful moments to savour with their convincing performances away from England.
Having gone two goals down inside the first 10 minutes of the game, Tottenham Hotspur recovered from a nightmare start in Turin to tip this tie in their favour ahead of the second leg at Wembley.
The North Londoners were poised for a horrible night when two goals from Gonzalo Higuain, had Massimiliano Allegri’s side sitting comfortably early on. With just over a minute on the clock, Mousa Dembele gave away a cheap foul by bringing down Miralem Pjanic who from the resulting free-kick clipped a clever pass to Higuain to hit a wonderful first-time volley past Hugo Lloris.
Things went worse for Spurs when Ben Davies was caught unawares by Federico Bernadeschi, tripping him and leaving the German referee Felix Brych with no choice but to point to the spot. Higuain stepped up and although, Lloris got a hand to it, the Argentine doubled the lead. At this point, Mauricio Pochettino’s men were headed for a disappointing night.
However, after going two goals down, they never gave up. They pressed forward and showed resilience and character, and looked for a way back into the tie. And with Spurs turning up the pressure, a lovely pass from Dele Alli saw Harry Kane through one-on-one with the onrushing Gianluigi Buffon, a lovely flick over the Juventus captain found the back of the net. It was certainly game on as the England striker given his team a huge lifeline.
The Bianconeri had a chance to win the game as they were awarded a second penalty after Sergio Aurier brought down Douglas Costa in the 18-yard box. This time, Higuain could not deliver, hammering his hatrick chance against Lloris’ bar and handing spurs a lifeline.
And with less than 10 minutes to go, Christian Eriksen scored the equalizer placing the ball in the bottom left corner from a free-kick after Giorgio Chiellini had brought down Dele Alli on the edge of the box.
Now, the tie is marginally poised in Tottenham’s favour as they took two away goals back to England after a terrific comeback against Europe’s most formidable defence.
With the second leg coming up in three weeks’ time, Allegri will be hoping to have his talisman, Paolo Dybala, fit in order to have a chance of making it to the last eight. However, the odds will definitely favour the North London side to nick this tie and seal progression to the quarter final for the first time in seven years.
Before the game at St. Jakob-Park, Manchester City were expected to comfortably see off Basel, and they lived up to the hype.
Much had been said about Pep Guardiola’s poor away record in his knockout ties (just four wins from 22 games). But he could not have asked for a better night to gradually put an end to his knockout woes. A brilliant display from his boys saw them thrash their Swiss counterpart as two goals from Ilkay Gundogan, and a single goal from Bernado Silva and Sergio Aguero each, helped the Manchester side convincingly defeat Raphael Wicky’s side.
With the second leg to come in three weeks’ time, City will not believe this tie is truly over until the end of the tie at the Etihad. But given their four-goal advantage, Guardiola will know his side have one foot firmly in the quarter-finals already. And if the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Aguero, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane can maintain their superb form, the Citizens would certainly be unstoppable even against Europe’s most established super powers.
The Premier League can take positives from last night performances by City and Spurs and can look forward to putting an end to the dominance of Spanish teams, who have won the last four editions of the competition. And with the final coming up at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine in May, English fans will hope that the trophy comes to England for the first time in six years.
Ronaldo’s double inspires comeback for Los Blancos
Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid came from behind to seal a 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu in what was an entertaining night for football fans all over the world.
Adrien Rabiot fired PSG ahead in the 33rd minute but Ronaldo who always silence his critics in key and decisive moments, equalized on the stroke of half time from the penalty spot to become the first player to hit a century of goals for one team in Europe’s premier club competition.
The League 1 leaders dominated the second half but were made to pay for not converting their chances as the Portugese scored his second goal- his 101st in the 83rd minute before Marcelo scored the third four minutes from stoppage time to give the reigning champions ahead of the second leg on March 6.
In a tie which would define the season for both Zinedine Zidane and Unai Emery, with both of them under pressure to deliver the Champions League title in order to save their jobs, the Los Blancos showed quality and character to put a smile on Zizou’s face going into the second leg at the Parc des Princes.
On a night when the odds had favoured the Les Parisiens to put one foot in the last eight considering the attacking prowess of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edison Cavani, the Spanish champions proved to the rest of Europe that they are the masters of the competition and should not be written off just yet despite their poor domestic form.
When Madrid travel to Paris in three week’s time, the odds will definitely favour them to make the last eight for the ninth consecutive season. Neymar and co would need a master-class performance in the second leg and hope Ronaldo et al do not come to the part if they are to keep their hopes of winning PSG’s first champions league trophy alive.
Mane stars as five-man Liverpool thrash FC Porto
Sadio Mane was the star man for the Reds- notching a brilliant hat-trick, while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino also got on the scoresheet as Liverpool took a huge step towards the quarter-finals at the Estadio do Dragao.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were at their brilliant best as they dominated FC Porto in a hugely one-sided clash. Mane broke the deadlock in the 25th minute when he fired a low-placed shot underneath Jose Sa.
Egyptian international continued his great form as his clever finish- his 30th goal of the season in all competitions put the Merseyside club 2-0 up in the 29th minute.
Shortly after, Sergio Conceicao’s side were made to pay for their inability to keep up with the pace of the talented-young English side as Mane and Roberto Firmino both scored on the counter in the second half.
Mane put the icing on the cake in the 85th minute to hand Porto their heaviest home defeat in Europe, as he drilled home to become only the fourth Liverpool player to score a hat-trick in Europe’s elite club competition.
With the win, Liverpool have registered the joint-biggest away Champions League knockout victory equaling Bayern Munchen’s 5-0 win at Sporting Lisbon in February 2009 and Real Madrid’s 6-1win at Schalke 04 in February 2014; and have now scored more Champions League goals this season (28) than any other team.
The win certainly caps off a brilliant week for English football with their hope of landing the CL title for the first time in six years receiving a massive boost as the road to Kiev gets intense.
Intriguing piece; very spot on.