Sports & Outdoors

Champions league finals bring world-class soccer season to a close

Pictured: Champions League emblem — Photo courtesy of Flickr

The UEFA Champions League (UCL) has historically displayed some of the most impressive and dramatic soccer one can witness. In recent weeks, massive upsets and last-minute drama have ensured that this tradition lives on in Europe’s biggest soccer competition.

The Champions League is an annual tournament between 32 of the top clubs in Europe. The knockout rounds (starting with the Round of 16) consist of two-legged ties. Each team plays their opponent twice –– once at home, once away. After both matches, the team with the greater aggregate (total) score advances. In the case of a draw, the team with the most away goals advances.

The final is then decided in a one-off match in a predetermined venue. This year, it will be hosted in the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid.

The quarter-finals have just concluded in remarkable style. Liverpool FC conquered FC Porto rather comfortably (6-1 on aggregate). FC Barcelona defeated Manchester United in similarly emphatic style (4-0 on aggregate). Barcelona and Liverpool will face one another in a highly-contested semi-final.

Out of seven Loggers interviewed, five predicted that Liverpool will come out on top.

Junior Dane Schatz’s prediction that Barcelona will advance is in the minority, perhaps with good reason: #10 Lionel Messi, widely considered to be one of the greatest soccer players of all time.

“Any team with Messi has to be considered favorites,” Schatz said.

On the other side of the tournament bracket, the quarter-finals were far more thrilling. Despite their rich history and domestic dominance, Dutch giants AFC Ajax have been dormant in European competitions since the turn of the century. However, their current squad is full of young and ambitious players that have vaulted the club into its first UCL semi-final in 20 years.

Captained by 19-year-old Dutchman Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax has had a Champions League campaign that can only be described as a Cinderella story. In the Round of 16, Ajax shocked the world with a 5-3 aggregate win over tournament favorites Real Madrid. Next, they faced Juventus.

Having just signed Cristiano Ronaldo –– the all-time top goal-scorer in the Champions League (126 goals) –– for 112 million Euros, Juventus was massively favored. In the second leg, Ajax heroically came back from a one-goal deficit to win 2-1 away from home (3-2 on aggregate), a result that no one expected. The winning goal was headed in by none other than Ajax’s teenage captain de Ligt.

To put this phenomenon into perspective, the starting 11 of Ajax cost the club merely half of Ronaldo’s transfer fee, according to Sportskeeda.

Sophomore and avid Ajax supporter Luke Groenveld is delighted with what his club has achieved, but he recognizes that this success may not be sustainable. There is a lot of speculation that players like de Ligt will transfer to bigger clubs once the season concludes.

“Ajax is a farm team by design,” Groenveld said. “This will be a peak year probably for the next five years if this summer transfer window goes off as it seems it will.”

Even greater drama unraveled when Manchester City hosted Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg of this all-English tie (Spurs won first leg 1-0). First-half goals in the fourth (Manchester City), seventh (Spurs), 10th (Spurs), 11th (City), and 21st (City) minutes gave the game a basketball-esque complexion. The back-and-forth continued when City scored in the 59th minute before Tottenham’s supersub Fernando Llorente scored in the 73rd. As things stood, the Spurs would advance on away goals.

With less than three minutes remaining, Raheem Sterling (City) thought he had completed his hat trick to send City through. However, the newly implemented Video Assistant Referee (VAR) ruled the goal out as Sergio Agüero (City) was marginally offside in the play leading up to the goal.

Sophomore Guillermo Ruiz shared his reactions: “I wanted Tottenham to win so badly just because I hate City. I was watching the game in class. I went from crying to screaming in a matter of seconds, yet I had to keep my emotions in check and listen to the lecture. When the goal was overturned, I was literally shaking in my chair with joy.”

Sophomore Zoe Welch praised the successful utilization of the new review system: “VAR is such a novelty in the UCL and this was a really big moment for it to be used. There’s been such a hullabaloo about bad refereeing in past years and it’s kind of nice that we can have an exciting game without that being a factor.”

Few have seen a more perfectly intense game of soccer. From the goalfest in the first half to the stoppage time drama, this match was a true spectacle.

Sophomore Ethan Stern-Ellis echoed this sentiment: “The disallowed goal at the end of the Tottenham game has to be the moment of the quarter-finals for me. After everything that happened in that game I couldn’t believe it, so crazy.”

The illegitimacy of Sterling’s goal means that Tottenham will face Ajax in the semi-finals. Only one of seven Loggers interviewed predict that Tottenham will overcome Ajax.

Senior Ian Thorne, a devoted Manchester United supporter, shared his prediction for the remainder of the tournament: “As annoying as it is, I think it’s Liverpool’s year to win it all. They just have a crazy talented squad.”

“I think Liverpool will win,” Ruiz echoed. “However, you are a fool if you aren’t rooting for Ajax. The run they have had is unbelievable.”

The semi-finals will occur on Tuesday, April 30 and Tuesday, May 7. The winner of the 2019 Champions League will then be decided on June 1. No matter the outcome, the remaining five matches will bring the same level of entertainment that the competition has delivered time and time again.