– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
MANCHESTER, England — One of the most interesting aspects of the UEFA Champions League, and an element that makes it so appealing, is that the entire tournament usually never disappoints, from first qualifying round to the knockout stages, in building up to the crescendo that every soccer fan ends up on the edge of their seats by the time the final comes around.
Sometimes, however, that same drama that is drawn out for almost 10 months is all encapsulated in a span of 90 minutes, games that become stuff of legend. While the most glaring example of that was Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League Final win over Bayern München in Barcelona where they scored two second-half stoppage-time goals to wrest away the title away from the Germans, two other English teams waged a battle on Wednesday that might end up being on a par with that famous match from 20 years ago.
In one of the most roller-coaster, non-stop thrillers the competition has ever seen, Tottenham Hotspur, after its 1-0 win in London in the first leg, saw off Manchester City in a seven-goal heart-stopper, as the Citizens won 4-3 but Spurs winning the tie due to the away goals rule.
For those in the United States, no daytime soap could match the ebb and flow of emotions and drama that this contest had from the kickoff, as stars played like stars, momentum shifts were as back-and-forth as an extended tennis rally and the element of the newly-installed Video Assistant Referee came into play on two occasions which only ratcheted up the dramatics tenfold at the end of the game.
City’s Raheem Sterling opened the scoring in the fourth minute, curling a shot with his weaker right foot into the lower far post to even the tie. Surprisingly, that would be just the first of three goals scored in the first 600 seconds.
Spurs’ Son Heung-min, leading the line without the injured Harry Kane, scored twice in a three-minute span to, first, tile the tie in Tottenham’s favor then, secondly, appear to dust the series away with his curling effort in the 10th minute into the top corner past Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson.
As hope seemed to seep away into the Etihad Stadium night, Manchester City fought back to score twice more in the first half, including Bernardo Silva’s shot that deflected off defender Danny Rose and past Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris just a minute after Son’s second. Ten minutes after that, Kevin de Bruyne’s perfect cross along the turf found a streaking Sterling in the back post, and the latter slotted past Lloris to put a cap to a madcap first 20 minutes — and move the Sky Blues just one goal away from possible progression.
While it appeared that defense was optional in the contest, there were moments of brilliance in the game that prevented goals, from Danny Rose’s sliding clearance in front of an on-charging Sergio Aguero at the goal line to Lloris’ sprawling save on Aguero at the beginning of the second half to keep the score at 3-2 and Tottenham still ahead on the tie due to away goals.
Aguero would have his say, however, as he took a slide rule pass from de Bruyne into the box before firing past Lloris at his near post in the 59th minute to give City the lead for the first time in the tie.
Without one of the most prolific strikers in Kane, out after suffering a potential season-ending ankle injury
in the first leg, Spurs summoned striker Fernando Llorente to help get the goal that would swing back momentum in the game, and Pochettino’s move worked to perfection when he guided a corner kick past Ederson in the 73rd minute. Amidst the Spurs players and traveling supporters consumed in rapturous celebration, the goal was subjected to video review, as it appeared that the ball took the faintest of deflections off of Llorente’s arm before it definitively hit his hip and the body of Man City defender Aymeric Laporte and into the net. The goal stood after review, and Tottenham was 15 minutes away from a memorable victory.
A memorable victory that looked to go up in smoke in second-half stoppage time, as a Christian Eriksen back pass was intercepted by City, and Aguero rushed into the box before playing the ball for Sterling, who fired past Lloris and scored the apparent winner. However, upon review, Eriksen’s back pass was touched by Silva before it reached Aguero, and the latter was in an offside position upon the ball touching Silva and made the play offside.
Man City’s quest for a historic quadruple went up in smoke as Tottenham reaches the semifinals of the Champions League, where it will take on Ajax.