“Who Dares, Wins” is a motto made popular by the British Special Air Service. It’s soccer equivalent should say, “Who plays for a draw or a minimal defeat following a good result in the first leg, loses.”
Barcelona and Real Madrid both felt very comfortable with their three goal lead from the first match against their respective Italian rivals. Barcelona paid the price and was eliminated, Real Madrid was saved by a very controversial stoppage time penalty.
It was less than a month ago when Barcelona was praised for behaving exactly the opposite. Following their 1-all draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, they knew they would qualify to the quarterfinals with a goalless draw, but they went on the offensive as soon as that second leg began, en route to a 3:0 win.
Manager Ernesto Valverde said this would also be the case at the Olimpico against Roma. He had promised to disregard the 4:1 win, and play as if it were clean slate. But it seems his players thought about the first leg result all along.
Barcelona was hoping for the first 20-25 minutes to go by with no harm done and then take control of the game as Roma would lose hope. No one at the Catalan club prepared himself for a possibility of an early goal by the team from the Italian capital.
Every team can have a slow defensive game here and there, the important question is when does that slow game arrive? For Barcelona, the timing could not have been worse.
For the first time this season their defense looked vulnerable and shaky, and for the first time this season, Ter Steggen conceded three goals. In the knockout stages, one bad game is all it takes to find yourself outside.
Barcelona will most likely win another La Liga title this season maintaining their domestic grip with a seventh title in ten years. As nice as that may be, this title will still leave a sour taste in some mouths, as for the third season in a row the Blaugrana have not gotten past the quarterfinal of the Champions League. For a team aiming to be the best in the world, it’s too much.
Barcelona is obviously the big story here but we cannot ignore Roma’s incredible achievement, most notably by Daniele de Rossi and Kostas Manolas. They were strongly criticized for scoring own goals in the first match, many blamed them for the fact Roma lost 4:1 despite a good team display. A week had gone by and both were on target again, the proper target this time.
Roma are only the third team in Champions League history to bounce back from a 3+ goal deficit from the first leg. Twenty-four hours later, fellow Italian team Juventus tried to become the fourth.
Just like Roma the previous night, Juventus got off to a great start with an early goal which made them believe they can turn things around. Real Madrid, to their credit, pushed forward but just couldn’t score, while Juve scored with two superb headers from Mandzukic, and Matvidi took advantage of a rare mistake by Keylor Navas to equalize the aggregate score.
Then came that stoppage time showdown. Was it a penalty? The answer depends on which team you support. Real Madrid fans are absolutely sure the referee made the right decision by awarding it, Cristiano Ronaldo said it himself. Juventus fan,s on the other hand, are sure their team was robbed. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.
The Spanish – Italian matchups provided us with great and unexpected drama. But there was no drama in the one matchup most people thought could provide one, the all English encounter. Out of the four quarterfinals, the one between Manchester City and Liverpool is the only one where the same team won both matches, Liverpool winning 5:1 on aggregate. The second leg looked like the entire Manchester City season. A great start, an early goal, a brilliant first half, followed by a far less energetic second half, where they lost it all. Sounds familiar? You are absolutely right, this is exactly the same scenario as the Manchester derby three days earlier.
The fourth quarterfinal felt like an anticlimax. Seville never really bothered Bayern Munich who won the first match 2:1 away, with the second leg at the Allianz arena ending in a goalless draw.
The most dramatic quarterfinal stage we have seen in years is now behind us. As always some fans are happy, others are sad, but as soccer fans we should be happy with the message these games have brought. No matter how one sided the first legs may have been, come the second legs everything is possible and nothing is over.