The Champions League, the world’s most esteemed club football tournament, has started up again after a short, 3-week hiatus between the Round of 16 and quarterfinals. Looking back on my previous Champions League projections I can confidently say that my predictive ability is abysmal.
P.S.G., my favorite to win the tournament, did not stage the comeback I envisioned in their second-leg vs. Real Madrid: they continued their recent trend of underperforming in the Champions League by exiting in the Round of 16. My club, Tottenham, also didn’t manage to hold off Juventus as I said they would, with the Italian club scoring twice in 5 minutes to come back and beat Tottenham on 2-1. Manchester United also failed me by losing to Sevilla on their own pitch 2-1. Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Roma all advanced to the quarterfinals, making my Round of 16 predictions five out of eight. However, now the reset button has been hit. The quarterfinal provide a new opportunity for amazing games, jaw-dropping goals, and most importantly for me, better predictions.
The quarterfinal matchups are, like all knockout stage games, randomly selected from the pot of remaining teams. They are as follows: Real Madrid vs. Juventus, Barcelona vs. Roma, Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla, and Manchester City vs. Liverpool. Many believe that this draw favored all of the strongest remaining teams. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City were certainly looking like the top 4 teams heading into this round. A Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, and Manchester City semifinals seemed to be on the cards.
The first day of competition was April 3rd, on which Bayern Munich was playing Sevilla and Real Madrid was playing Juventus. Bayern Munich travelled to Sevilla’s stadium. They grabbed two crucial away goals from Thiago and Jesus Navas (a Sevilla player who scored an own goal) in a 2-1 victory.
The much more enticing matchup of the first day was Real Madrid vs. Juventus. These two teams have met in two of the previous three tournaments. In 2015, Juventus eliminated Real Madrid in the semifinals. Last year, Real Madrid got their revenge, defeating Juventus 4-1 in the finals. This year, it seemed like Real Madrid picked up right where they left off in 2017. Madrid kept a clean sheet and put 3 goals past Italian goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon, who is playing in his final season of club football. Two of those goals came from the king of the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The first goal marked the 10th consecutive game Ronaldo scored in the competition, a record. The second goal marked the 119th goal Ronaldo has scored in the competition, another tournament record. However, these feats were not even the most impressive thing Ronaldo accomplished that night.
The second goal Ronaldo scored was undoubtedly the best goal he has ever scored, out of the 650 in his career. Real Madrid right back Carvajal drove down the far side of the eighteen yard box and chipped a ball high in the air towards the penalty spot. Ronaldo, who was running away from the net, leapt into the air, bringing his right foot around in a bicycle kick. He made contact with the ball, which looked to be about 9 feet in the air at that point. The ball soared into the side panel of the net, leaving Buffon standing still in the middle of the goal. Ronaldo calmly got up off the pitch, ran over to a crowd of Juventus fans, pointing to himself in typical Ronaldo fashion. The Juventus fans were seen applauding the 33 year-old Portuguese superstar after the goal. Ronaldo had finally got his signature moment, the one that would be constantly referenced when discussing his illustrious career. He had this to say about the Juventus fans: “This was one of the nicest moments. To be applauded by the Juventus stadium, where so many great footballers have played, is a top moment for me. It’s something that stays in your heart … I want to thank all the Italians who were here in the stadium and applauded me.”
The second day of matchups brought excitement as well. The two remaining English teams, Manchester City and Liverpool, faced each other at Anfield, Liverpool’s legendary home field. Anfield is known to have one of the best European football atmospheres. Liverpool have played some of their most memorable games in their storied history at the stadium: the 1991 comeback vs. Auxerre, the 2007 semi-final victory vs. Chelsea, the miraculous 3 goal comeback vs. Dortmund in 2016, and the legendary victory vs. Chelsea in 2005. Liverpool’s European history is one of the best out of any English club, but have underperformed in the Champions League in recent years.
Although it was Liverpool who ended City’s remarkable undefeated streak a few months ago, many analysts were picking City to be the ones to emerge victorious from this matchup. After all, Manchester City were one win away from wrapping up the Premier League title and showed no signs of slowing down. However, right from the start, it was Liverpool who set the tone for the game. Mohamed Salah, the undisputed signing of the season and potential player of the year in the Premier League, scored the first goal of the game in 12th minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added a second 8 minutes later, and Sadio Mané scored the third after another 11 minutes. Manchester City were stifled the rest of the first half and all of the second, leaving the score 3-0 to Liverpool. Anfield has seen some fantastic European games in its history, but was the loudest its ever been, according to some Liverpool players. Although there isn’t much Liverpool can do about the Premier League title at this point, they still had given themselves a great chance to spoil Manchester City’s Champions League hopes.
Barcelona’s game versus Roma went as expected. Roma started off by blundering away two own goals. Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué scored the third goal a little later. Roma’s forward Džeko got one back for the Italian side in the 80th minute, but Luis Suarez all but put the game away with a goal of his own in the 89th minute.
The second legs of the quarterfinal matchups were as good, if not better, than the first legs. To kick things off, Roma completed a remarkable comeback vs. Barcelona, rivaling the one Barcelona made versus PSG in the Round of 16 last year. Džeko, in front of Roma’s massive home crowd, scored early one, making the aggregate score 4-2. For the rest of the first half, Ter Stegen, Barcelona’s goalkeeper, kept Roma at bay. However, in the 57th minute, Roma was awarded a penalty kicker. De Rossi, Roma’s captain, step up to the spot and delivered, sending the stadium into pandemonium. One more goal and Roma were through. The magical moment came in the 81st minute. After yet another sequence of miraculous Ter Stegen saves a couple minutes earlier, Roma broke though. A corner-kick was swung in towards near post of Barcelona’s goal and Kostas Manolas jumped in front of his defended, nodding the ball into the far side of the goal. The stadium erupted. Roma players swarmed Manolas as he sprinted towards Roma’s bench. Roma had accomplished a miracle to send themselves into the semifinals of the Champions League, against Spanish powerhouse Barcelona nonetheless.
Manchester City looked like they might have been able to complete a 3 goal comeback of their own in front of their home crowd at the Etihad, with Gabriel Jesus scoring in the 2nd minute. However, after stifling Manchester City’s offense for rest of the first half, Liverpool got their devastating goal, and who else but Mohamed Salah was the one to score it. Roberto Firmino smashed all hope of a Manchester City comeback with a goal of his own ten minutes later, and Liverpool punched their ticket to the Champions League semifinals. Manchester City’s awful week of losing 3-0 to Liverpool and 3-2 to Manchester United had somehow gotten worse.
Bayern Munich calmly quelled Sevilla at home, drawing 0-0. This was enough to get the German Champions through to yet another Champions League semifinal. Bayern hope to return to the final for the first time since 2013.
The most dramatic game of the quarterfinals looked to be Roma’s comeback vs. Barcelona. It seemed impossible that no other game could match the chaos the Italian side produced by defeating the soon-to-be Spanish champions. But, as is so typical in Champions League football, people were proven wrong again. The second leg of Real Madrid vs. Juventus proved to be just as intriguing, just as dramatic, and just as brilliant as Roma’s comeback. Juventus travelled to Madrid after losing 3-0, making most fans think of this game just as formality: Real Madrid had essentially already made their way into the semifinals. This, of course, was proven to be false. Mario Mandžukić, Juventus’ forward, scored in the 2nd minute of the game, showing everyone that Juventus would not go down without a fight. He added a second goal in the 37th minute, and it was game on. The match, which was back and forth all night long, continued on for some time. Real Madrid’s goalie Keylor Navas and Juve’s goalie Buffon were feeding off one another, making save after save after save. However, it was Navas who flinched first, coughing up a rebound for Blaise Matuidi to put away in the 60th minute. The impossible, a term that should never be used in football, had happened. Juventus were level, and all it took was one more goal to put them through to the semifinals.
The next 30 minutes passed along, each team throwing everything they had at one another. Real Madrid was playing for an opportunity to win a third consecutive Champions League title; Juventus for a chance to show that they shouldn’t be labeled as an underdog anymore. Buffon, who will retire after this season, was playing to keep his last run in the Champions League alive. Unfortunately for the Italian legend, the unimaginable happened. In added time, Real Madrid were awarded a penalty. Buffon, caught up in the passion and adrenaline rush that is football, screamed at the referee until he was given a red card and sent off. Real Madrid’s stadium had been exploding with noise until their hero stepped up to take the penalty kick. Ronaldo took one brief glance at the net, ran up, and smashed the penalty kick into the right upper-corner. He ripped his shirt off, ran to the corner, and fueled the screams of a hundred thousand fans. Real Madrid had won, and it was thanks to him yet again.
Each round of the Champions League this year seems to be better than the last. The Roma and Real Madrid victories provided enough excitement for an entire tournament, but the best is yet to come. Real, Roma, Bayern, and Liverpool are the remaining four. Spanish, italian, german, and english teams, respectively. A clash of each of these countries’ best is on the cards, and the football world will be waiting eagerly to witness it.