After an exciting first day of matches this week the general sentiment going into Wednesday was the top dogs (Bayern & Barcelona) would cruise to the semi finals. Both heavy favorites two advance according to Vegas… Apparently nobody told Atletico Madrid. Atleti came in to Wednesday down 2-1 on aggregate but did possess the crucial away goal.
Barca came out with their usual attack minded style of football while Atleti sank deep into their own end and looked to counter quickly. Then in the 36th minute everything changed. Saul hit a beautiful curling ball off the outside of his foot, which Griezmann struck with fervor giving the Barcelona keeper no chance. 2-2 with Atleti going on by virtue of away goals. If you thought Atletico was playing defensive before they really were now. Their strikers tracked back to their own 18-yard box to disrupt any Barca momentum. Then again in the 86th minute Atletico broke out with a dangerous counter. Iniesta slid to try to stop it catching the ball with his hand… Penalty Kick. The crowd erupts as the team protests for a red card, their pleadings feel on deaf ears however as Iniesta was only issued a yellow. Griezmann stepped confidently to the spot and buried the PK bottom right just out of the outstretched reach of Ter Stergen. Game set match: Atletico advance in one of the biggest shockers in recent champions league history.
Meanwhile while the action was playing out in Madrid German Stalwarts Bayern Munich were being giving all they could handle from the Portuguese side Benfica. An early headed goal from Benfica tied the score 1-1 on aggregate and it seemed the momentum was swinging their way. That is when Bayern stepped in and showed why they are odds on favorites to win the Champions League. Beautiful interplay combined with long balls to their dangerous forwards proved to be too much for the Portuguese side. A stunner from Vidal and clean up finish for Thomas Muller secured the victory for the Germans who advanced 3-2 on aggregate. Benfica did add a goal in the 76th minute but it was far too little far too late.
With the final four set we now await the semi final draw to determine who will play who for an opportunity tograce the greatest stage in soccer. The final four gives us two teams from Madrid, Atletico and Real, German powers Bayern, and 2014’s EPL champs Manchester City. Surely an intriguing 4, we eagerly await the draw to get a better picture of the tail end of this incredible champions League season. One things for certain, your not gonna want to miss a second of these semi final matches.
With one day of quarterfinal matchups in the rearview mirror the final four picture is starting to become a little more clear. Yesterdays games promised to provide ample drama, and they did not disappoint.
Real Madrid came into yesterday’s second leg down 2-0 to the Wolfsburg. The young German squad led by Julian Draxler put on a technical display in the first leg ripping the heavily favored Madrid to the shock of any and all soccer fans. This first leg really turned the soccer community upside down, and going into yesterdays game Real needed a 2-0 win merely to force 30 minutes of extra time.
You could say Madrid came to play yesterday…. Led by Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo the team came in with a focus the likes of which we haven’t seen from Madrid this year. From the opening whistle it was evident this was going to be a much different game than the first leg in Germany. Real pinged the ball from left to right while providingconstant pressure on Diego Benaglio and the Wolfsburg defense. Madrid struck quickly on a magical through ball from Dani Carvahal that ended up on the foot of Ronaldo and subsequently in the back of the net. 15 minutes in Wolfsburg is still leads 2-1 on aggregate. Less than 2 minutes later, guess who? Ronaldo again, this time off a beautiful service from Toni Kroos. 2-2 on aggregate… Game on! After the second goal Wolfsburg seemed to settle down, controlling more of the ball and even producing a few good chances themselves. That said it felt like only a matter of time before Madrid gotthe crucial 3rd goal. Enter Cristiano Ronaldo. A poor challenge from Wolfsburg gained Madrid a free kick in a dangerous territory. Ronaldo stood in his patented stance over the sumptuous set piece 28 yards out, took a large exhalethen ripped a beauty through a tiny gap in the wall and into the right side of the net. The stadium erupted knowing they had punched their ticket to the semi-finals for the 3rd year in a row. This game marked only the 3rd time in Champion’s League history a team had overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit to advance to the next round. !Hala Madrid!
While history was unfolding in Madrid there was another pretty good game going on in Manchester England. Manchester City, the last EPL team in the field, put on a stellar performance in the first leg securing 2 crucial away goals against the Paris giants PSG allowing them to return to their fans with a 2-2 tie on aggregate.
Man City came out in a defensive technique looking to protect their slight advantage over the always deadly Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSG. They quickly abandoned this formula for a more attacking style once play opened up. A missed penalty kick from Man City’s Sergio Aguero in the first 20 minutes gave PSG life in a battle between two evenly matched units. That said, PSG could not get organized going forward and it became obvious they were missing Blaise Matudi and David Luiz out there. PSG did muster a few good attempts on target but City keeper Joe Hart answered every question PSG’s attack asked. Then in the second half former Wolsburg star and 23 year old Kevin De Brunye ripped a curler pasted Kevin Trapp to all but ensure the victory. With more help from Hart, City was able to hold off the highflying PSG offense and reach the semi finals for the first time in club history.
With two of the final four now determined we watch with excitement to see who will join them. Barcelona and Bayern are the heavy favorites to advance on Wednesday but don’t tell that to Athletico or Benfica. Both games remain close and will be high drama. Tune in tomorrow for my recap of Wednesday’s action, and don’t forget to tune in on Fox Sports 1, 1:45CST.