Last week, the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi finals took place, and it turned out as two of the greatest games in league history. After a regular season filled with eye-catching matches that kept viewers on the edge of their seats from the blow of the first whistle until the last, a postseason topping it seemed unlikely. However, the semifinals of Europe’s great league exceeded all expectations. Barcelona and Liverpool got the craziness started, while Ajax and Tottenham put the icing on the cake. Let’s jump right into the festivities that have soccer fans all around the world still buzzing today.
Tuesday: Liverpool vs. Barcelona
“Never Give Up” were the words on star forward Mohamed Salah’s shirt, who was sidelined with a concussion in the biggest game of the year. Brazilian star Roberto Firmino accompanied Salah on the bench with a groin injury. Not only was Liverpool down 3-0 against the best team in the world this season, Barcelona, they also needed to score four goals and let in zero to advance, without their two most prolific attackers. However, Salah’s backup Divock Origi, and a super substitute, Georginio Wijnaldum, had read Mo’s shirt, and adopted his montra to never give up.
Origi started off with a goal in the 7th minute however the Reds still faced a daunting 3 goal deficit in both legs combined. And then, the magic happened. In the span of two minutes, Georginio Wijnaldum, who was denied a contract this January and was expected to depart after the season, scored twice to level the aggregate at three, and made the speckle of light at the end of the tunnel shine like the sun. The climb was still incomplete. The Spanish champions needed only one goal to advance to the finals, and with King Leo on their side, arguably the greatest scorer in the game, this win was still very much in reach for Barca. Liverpool had already made it this far, so exiting after this semifinal was not an option. In the 79th minute, Liverpool lined up for a corner kick. Trent Alexander-Arnold was the original kick taker, but the Reds wanted to change that. As soon as Arnold started to walk away from the corner, a red jersey, inside the 18, unmarked, appeared. Arnold quickly took the kick, and sent a laser to, yes, once again, the backup, Divock Origi. He had a chance to turn himself from a no-name to a hero, and he did just that. Origi sliced the ball right into the top left corner, leaving Barca keeper, Marcus Ter Stegen with absolutely no chance. The perfect ending to a perfect game. Liverpool completes the impossible, coming back from down 3-0, and winning on a fake corner kick. It does not get much better than that.
Just two years ago, Barcelona completed their own unthinkable comeback, needing to score 6 goals to advance to the quarter finals of Europe’s league, against French superteam, PSG. A goal from Sergi Roberto, to cap off 3 goals in 7 minutes, secured the greatest comeback in Champions League history, however that might have been changed last week. This time, Barcelona was on the opposing end of the extraordinary. “What the boys did — this mix, again, of big heart and football skills — is unbelievable,” Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp says, applauding his players after the incredible win. The entire season, perhaps due to their defeat by Real Madrid in last year’s Champions League Finals, Klopp’s group has shown the unstoppable will to win. So if last years loss combined with last week’s win does not motivate them for this year’s finals, than nothing will.
Wednesday: Ajax vs. Tottenham
Nothing could possibly live up to tuesday’s game, right? Well, in just 24 short hours, opinions on that might have been changed. In the first leg of this semi final cinderella story, Ajax, had a huge win in Tottenham, winning 1-0, away, a huge factor in the Champions League. At that scoreline, and traveling back to Amsterdam, a comeback was certainly unlikely, but definitely not impossible. However, at the end of the first 45, the hill that Tottenham had to climb became a mountain. First half goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech effectively punched Ajax’s ticket to the Champions League Final for the first time since 1996. Or so we thought. The Hotspurs looked dead and beat as the final whistle of the first have blew, and superstar forward Harry Kane made sure that would change. Kane is out for the season with an ankle injury, but he still made sure his presence was felt. According to ESPN, Kane was “livid” and “ignited the comeback” through a halftime speech. Whether this is true or not, Tottenham was a completely different team in the second half.
In four minutes, Hotspurs left wing Lucas Moura scored twice to level the game at two. However Ajax still held the lead on aggregate. Amsterdam’s team recovered from their momentary lapse, and regained control of the game, dominating in position. As the 90th minute hit, the sideline referee showed a minimum of 5 minutes of extra time and the Hotspurs got a glimmer of hope. Time kept ticking and in the 95th minute, the stadium erupted, pleading for the referee to call the game and put Ajax through. Then, Tottenham forward Dele Alli played a one touch pass into the 18, and who else but Lucas Moura ran onto it and slots the game winner into the bottom right corner for his third goal. The Spurs bench cleared, players, hugged and jumped as if they had just won the final. Ajax players fell to their knees, shocked at squandering what seemed like a done deal that they would move onto the finals. Tears of joy and agony streamed from the players faces, showing the raw emotion and passion that this sport provokes. A Hollywood ending to another unthinkable game. Lucas Moura, the hatrick hero of the semifinal.
June 1st: Tottenham vs. Liverpool.
Teams from Europe’s biggest leagues competed and, in the end, two English teams will battle it out to be crowned the Champions of the worlds most prestigious league. Momentum won’t be a factor in this game after both teams are soaring after unimaginable wins. The Reds attack in Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah should be healthy for this game, as Tottenham is ready to shock the world once more. The finals can’t possibly top the two semifinal games, but hey, we thought that once before and look at the outcome? Let’s just wait and see what these ultimate comeback kids have in store for us this time.