Football Article

Champions League Update - Liverpool, Real Madrid Enter Semi-Finals

Champions League Update - Liverpool, Real Madrid Enter Semi-Finals Photo: TT

This week saw the semi-finalists in both the Champions League and the Europa League decided as the reverse Quarter-Final ties were played.

Champions League

The big surprise on Tuesday night came in Italy where Roma overcame a 3 goal deficit to beat Barcelona on the away goals rule, after the tie finished 4 -4 on aggregate at the end of the second leg. Trailing 4 – 1 from the first leg in Spain, Roma got off to the perfect start when Edin Dzeko slotted home after just 6 minutes. The Italian side continued to press, and got their reward when Gerard Pique brought down Dzeko in the box and conceded the penalty. Up stepped Roma captain Daniele de Rossi and calmly scored. With the home crowd roaring their side on, the comeback was complete with 7 minutes left when Kostas Manolas brilliantly flicked on a corner with his head to start wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stand.

Also hoping to overturn a three goal deficit on the night were Manchester City and they too started well with an early goal against Liverpool, with Gabriel Jesus scoring after just 2 minutes. However, despite almost constant pressure, the home side could not find another goal before half-time, although there was controversy when Leroy Sane was given offside, when the ball deflected into the net off a Liverpool player. So incensed was City manager Pep Guardiola with the decision that he complained too much to the referee at the break, and was sent to sit in the stands for the second-half. The tie was effectively over when Liverpool equalised in the 56th minute, through Mohamed Salah who barely been involved until that point. And the coup de grace came when a poor City clearance went straight to Roberto Firmino who accelerated into the area and passed the ball into the net. The final score of 2 -1 on the night gave Liverpool a 5 – 1 aggregate win and a place in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in a decade.

There was almost a huge shock on Wednesday night as Italian champions Juventus overcame a three-goal deficit away to Real Madrid only to lose the tie to a late and highly controversial penalty. The Serie A leaders got off to a great start when Mario Mandzukic headed them in front after only 79 seconds, and clawed their way further back into the match when the same player scored another before half-time. The comeback then seemed complete, when Blaise Matuidi pounced on an error by Real keeper Keylor Navas to bring the aggregate score to three-all.

However, with extra time and penalties looming, English referee Michael Oliver adjudged that Medhi Benatia had brought down Lucas Vazquez and awarded Real a penalty. It was a highly controversial and dubious decision which was hotly-contested by the Juventus players, not least by their highly respected goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who was sent-off for foul and abusive language, in what could be one of his last appearances for the club. Cristiano Ronaldo then stepped-up to secure overall victory for his side by slotting the spot-kick past substitute keeper Wojciech Szczesny, as the match finished 3 -1 to Juventus on the night, but 4 – 3 to Real on aggregate.

Afterwards Buffon described the referee as having a “bag of rubbish for a heart”, and that in future he should confine himself to sitting “in the stands eating crisps”.

The other tie saw Bayern Munich grind out a goalless draw with Sevilla to progress to the last four following their 2 -1 victory in Spain a week ago. Both sides had chances to score, with Sevilla defender Joaquin Correa, who was later sent off in injury time, hitting the bar, whilst midfielder Paolo Sarabia missing a fine chance in the first half for the Spanish side. Bayern went close themselves through Robert Lewandoswki and Franck Ribery, but the draw was enough to see Bayern claim their seventh semi-final spot in 9 years.

Fridays’ draw paired Liverpool against Roma and Bayern Munich versus Real Madrid in the two semi-finals.

Europa League

There was no shortage of drama in the Europa League as well, with the most notable result coming in Austria where three goals in four second-half minutes enabled Red Bull Salzburg to pull off an amazing comeback to beat Lazio 4 – 1 on the night and advance to the semi-finals 6 – 5 on aggregate. Trailing 4 - 2 from the first-leg in Italy, Salzburg went further behind when Ciro Immobile scored 10 minutes into the second-half. However, Moanes Dabour equalised on the night a minute later, and then came the magical spell for the Austrian side, prompted by Amadou Haidara’s long-range strike. Hwang Hee-chan then put Salzburg ahead in the tie overall, before Stefan Lainer completed the scoring and the fight back.

Another team to complete a comeback were Marseille who beat RB Leipzig 5 – 2 on the night, triumphing 6 – 3 on aggregate. After winning the home leg by a single goal, Leipzig doubled their advantage after only 70 seconds through Bruma, only to concede three first-half goals, sparked by an own goal from Stefan Ilsanker. Bouna Sarr added a second for Marseille and then Florian Thauvin scored a third before half-time. Leipzig regained overall advantage in the tie through a strike by Jean-Kevin Augustin, and looked to be once again in control of the tie. However, former West Ham striker Dimitri Payet then put Marseille ahead again on aggregate, and with Leipzig desperately looking to level the scores, Hiroki Sakai scored on the break to conclude proceedings.

The third team who looked set to complete a comeback on the night were CSKA Moscow. Trailing by four goals to one after their first leg against Arsenal, the home side went in front when Fedor Chalov bundled home a rebound, and went further ahead when Kirill Nababkin scored early in the second-half. CSKA went looking for the goal that would give them the aggregate lead in the tie, only for Arsenal, who had been very passive up to that point, to pull a goal back through Danny Welbeck who was put through by Mohamed Elneny. The goal drained the spirit from the Russian side, and over-committed in forward areas, they allowed Aaron Ramsey to break forward in injury time after another assist from Elneny, and equalise on the night, making the final score over the two legs 6 – 3 in favour of the Gunners.

Favourites to win the competition, Atletico Madrid, progressed, despite losing 1 – 0 on the night to Sporting Lisbon. Holding a two-goal lead from the first leg into the match, Atletico conceded a first-half goal to a Fredy Montero header. However, they comfortably held-off the Portuguese side and preserved their narrow advantage to advance 2 – 1 on aggregate.

The draw for the semi-finals saw Marseille drawn against Red Bull Salzburg whilst Arsenal will meet Atletico Madrid.

Rajeev mcallister
Sports Pundit staff writer

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