As this year’s UEFA Champions League approaches its grand finale, there were some unbelievable moments in the tournament’s semi-final stage. With the final four teams residing in the top leagues from England (2), Spain (1), and the Netherlands (1), the semifinals were guaranteed to be a set of matches to remember for ages. In each round, the pair of teams that meet play two games against the other, a first and second leg. By playing in two legs, both teams have the opportunity to play on their home ground, with the crowd at their back. In the Champions League, there is an away-goal clause, meaning that if both sides have a tied scoreline on aggregate (added total of goals scored in each of the two games), the team that has scored the most goals while playing away from home will continue in the tournament.
Tottenham Hotspur (England) vs. Ajax (Netherlands)
With both teams in this matchup virtually seen as the “Cinderella” of the tournament, no one truly knew what to expect. With Tottenham facing a number of players sidelined with fitness problems and Ajax merely at full strength with momentum on their side, after knocking English league champions Manchester City and Italian league champions Juventus out of the tournament, the Dutch team were considered the favorites to win. In the first leg, it only took Ajax until the fifteenth minute to pull ahead of the English side. Truly controlling the field, Hakim Ziyech played the ball off the left side, into the feet of central midfielder Danny Van de Beek, who slotted a shot past Tottenham’s French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. With both teams having many shots throughout the game and evenly splitting possession, Ajax successfully held off the English side, with a crucial 1-0 away goal advantage.
Looking toward what seemed to be an easy match at home for Ajax, Tottenham travelled to the Netherlands with vengeance in mind. Right from the get-go, Ajax had most control of the match. Following an astonishing save from Lloris, the Dutch side used the advantage of the corner given to score the first goal of the night in just the fifth minute of the match. After facing shots at both ends of the field, it took Ziyech a mere thirty minutes to help his side score yet another goal. Going into halftime, many thought the matchup between the two sides was done and dusted, with Ajax at a 3-0 scoreline on aggregate against the Spurs. Ten minutes after the match picked back up, the English side picked apart the defense, and Brazilian winger Lucas Moura found the back of the net. With momentum slowly flowing into the Spurs’ team, they won the ball back within minutes, and after failed attempts from Ajax to clear their lines in their own box, the ball fell straight to Lucas Moura once again, who dribbled and spun around the defense and slotted his second goal of the night into the bottom corner. Almost at a loss of belief, viewers could notice the decrease of quality in Ajax’s play, as the Spurs high hopes’ were looking to prevail. As the game reached its final minutes, both sides had faced shots, fouls, and bookings, but Spurs were reluctant to give up their hope. As play proceeded, Lucas Moura made a run at a loose ball toward the Dutch side’s net, and doing the unthinkable, completed his hat-trick for the night, leading Spurs to the Champions League final from a 3-2 scoreline on the night and a 3-3 scoreline on aggregate, but winning on away goals (3).
FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. Liverpool (England)
As Spanish giants FC Barcelona looked to continue on toward the Champions League title that captain Leo Messi guaranteed at the start of the season, English side Liverpool looked to knock them off the spectacular run the Spaniards have had this season. As both sides seemed quite evenly matched in the opening minutes, each team had plenty of shots and chances created in the opening minutes, but no shot found the back of the net until the twenty-sixth minute, when ex-Liverpool player Luis Suarez poked in a lovely ball from Spanish left-back, Jordi Alba, to pull Barcelona in front. As the game proceeded quite evenly, no one could find the back of the net again, as the two went into halftime. Straight from the second-half kickoff, Liverpool broke through the Barcelona defense, forcing German keeper Marc-André ter Stegen to pull off an applaudable one-handed stop. As play continued, both teams passed the ball around, attempting to create more chances, nothing else happened until the seventy-fifth minute, when Lionel Messi slotted home the rebound off the crossbar from Suarez’s original shot. Up 2-0, Barcelona were making the night theirs, but as time continued, so did the tensions amongst the players on the field. Into the final ten minutes of the match, Liverpool center-defensive midfielder Fabinho lunged a tackle into. Essie as he ran towards the English side’s goal, leading up to arguments and near-fights growing, as both sides faced yellow card bookings. Thirty yards out from the goal, Leo Messi stepped up to take the free kick and whipped the ball towards the net. Curling up and around the wall of Liverpool men, Messi made a near-perfect shot, as he found the top left corner to give Barcelona a 3-0 lead as the match concluded.
With fitness problems and several injuries, Liverpool were forced to play against Barcelona without their top attacker’s in Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. As a replacement up top for the Reds, substitutes Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri started together with Sadie Mané. Looking to be just the third team to ever come back from a three goal deficit in European competition to continue to the final. As soon as the match started, Liverpool’s determination for victory was obvious, as secondary striker Origi found the back off the net in just the seventh minute of play. Dominating the entirety of the match, Liverpool dominated the first half, almost keeping Barcelona from creating any chances. As the second half began, manager Jürgen Klopp made a crucial substitution, putting midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum on the field for left-back Andrew Robertson. Just eight minutes after coming onto the field, the Dutch substitute provided value to the English side as he drilled home a shot from a whipped in cross. Momentum growing, and hopes higher than ever, the Reds continued to run rampant on the Spaniards, as Shaqiri whipped in a cross from the edge of the box to reach Wijnaldum once again, who met the ball with a sublime header, sending the ball into the top corner of the net just two minutes after his first goal. Missed shots, dozens of passes, numerous fouls, and plenty of saves from the keepers on both ends of the pitch led the match into its final minutes. The seventy-ninth minute, Liverpool was awarded a corner kick, where Trent Alexander-Arnold caught the Barcelona defense off-guard as he whipped in a ball to Origi, who blasted the ball into the roof of the net. Liverpool successfully held off the Catalonians to a 4-0 win on the night, and a historic 4-3 comeback win on aggregate to proceed to the Champions League final.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur (England) vs. Liverpool (England)
In an all English final, the Champions League conclusion will be a traditional match of high stakes between two of the top Premier League sides. Though a massive amount of viewers are heartily against the idea of Liverpool winning a title, statistically the Reds are considered the favorites to take home the “cup with the big ears”. Senior Jake Easly said, “I did not think the semi-final matches were going to turn out the way they did. Once Barcelona won the first match 3-0, I thought Liverpool was done, but they actually came back and left me speechless. Ajax is a much better side than Tottenham, I could not see Spurs winning, but they did that too. I think there’s no way Liverpool lose to Tottenham in a cup final, especially one as prestigious as the Champions League. As a Chelsea fan, I would prefer neither win the European trophy, but I do think Liverpool will win it all.” With the performances displayed by Liverpool throughout the course of this season, especially when playing Spurs throughout the regular season, Liverpool should have no issue in the final.