Football. Bloody Hell. This year’s UEFA Champions League has been nothing short of spectacular. We’ve been treated to so many brilliant moments and the competition has been a joy to watch. This season’s tournament will go down in history as the Champions League of comebacks. Many did not expect Dutch giants Ajax to make it all the way to the semifinals, and the mighty Tottenham Hotspur are now one win away from their first ever European title. What’s more surprising is that this will be the first final since 2015 to not feature a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, who himself was on the right end of a majestic comeback with Juventus. Let’s take a look at the 7 best comebacks of this season’s Champions League.
7. Roma 3-4 Porto
Roma’s first leg tie vs Porto in the Round of 16 was a chance for the Italian side to follow up on their extraordinary comeback win over Catalan giants FC Barcelona in last year’s competition. The Italian side dominated proceedings, and tested Iker Casillas’ goal three times before Nicolo Zaniolo’s low effort beat the Spanish shot-stopper in the 70th minute. The teenager doubled Roma’s lead 5 minutes later when he was first to react to Edin Dzeko’s shot, who hit the post and fell right onto his stride. Porto managed to pull one back 3 minutes later, when Soares’ sliced effort found Adrian, who slotted a low effort past Antonio Mirante.
Porto started off strong in the second leg, and found the lead in the 25th minute after Marega squared it to Soares to tap home from close range. Roma then won a penalty 10 minutes later after Perotti and Eder Militao clashed legs inside the box. Daniele De Rossi stepped up and made no mistake from the spot to restore his side’s lead at 3-2. Porto then drew level in the 52nd minute when Jesus Corona’s cross was volleyed in by Moussa Marega. The match then went to extra time. Edin Dzeko saw his tame chip cleared off the line before the ref–with the help of VAR–awarded Porto a penalty three minutes later. Florenzi was caught holding Fernardo’s shirt from behind, and Alex Telles sent Robin Olsen the wrong way to seal the win for the Portuguese side.
6. Real Madrid 1-4 Ajax
Ajax were rewarded for an impressive group E showing with a Round of 16 tie against holders Real Madrid. Both sides traded blows early on in the Johan Cruyff Arena, with Vinicius Jr. forcing Andre Onana to a smart save, and Dusan Tadic hitting the post in the 25th minute. Ajax then went on the front foot and thought they’d taken the lead in the 37th minute, when Nicolas Tagliafico put a header past Thibaut Courtois, but VAR confirmed Dusan Tadic was interfering with play while being offside. Real Madrid then took the lead in the 59th minute when Vinicius Jr. went on a mazy run to feed Karim Benzema, who shot a rocket past Onana. The Dutch side clawed back 15 minutes later, when David Neres found Hakim Ziyech inside the box. The Moroccan slotted home past Courtois. With 4 minutes left in the match, Dani Carvajal sent a hopeful cross that found Marco Asensio in the backpost. The Spanish winger tapped in the ball, and the first leg ended 2-1 to the Madrid side.
The second leg started off brightly for Madrid. Raphael Varane was unlucky not to score after his header hit the bar as early as the 4th minute. That proved costly for the defending champions, as Ajax leveled up the tie 3 minutes later through Hakim Ziyech, the Moroccan’s second in the tie. The Dutch side took the lead in the 17th minute, when Dusan Tadic turned Casemiro brilliantly to find David Neres. The Brazilian chipped Courtois to give Ajax their second away goal. Gareth Bale hit the post 4 minutes before the break, but the tie was all but over when Tadic himself hit a screamer in the 61st minute to give his side a 4-2 aggregate lead. Marco Asensio gave Madrid a glimmer of hope in the 70th minute to make it 4-3, but Lasse Schone’s in-swinging free kick in the 71st minute sealed the deal for Ajax. The Dutch side put 4 past Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu to secure a famous victory.
5. Ajax 2-1 Juventus
After dumping holders Real Madrid out of the competition, Ajax was drawn against Juventus in the quarterfinals. The first leg was played at home, and Ajax started off well, with Hakim Ziyech testing Szczesny’s goal early on. The Dutch side kept dominating early on, and the Moroccan was on hand again to force Szczesny to a smart save in the 17th minute. Both Van De Beek and Bernardeschi spurred great chances wide, before a delicious through ball found Cristiano Ronaldo to head Juventus into the lead right before halftime. The Italians couldn’t hold on to the lead however, as David Neres took advantage of Joao Cancelo’s poor control to slot one past Szczesny, leaving the Polish helpless in goal. Neither side were able to find the killer goal, with Douglas Costa coming close after his low effort hit the post late in the game. The first leg ended all square.
Paolo Dybala was inserted to the starting lineup in the second leg, and his effort tested Andre Onana in the 21st minute. Minutes later, Juventus took the lead. Pjanic’s corner found Cristiano Ronaldo unmarked, and the Portuguese headed an unstoppable effort past Onana. Ajax leveled the tie in remarkable fashion 12 minutes later. Many inside the stadium were waiting for the linesman to flag Van De Beek offside, but replays showed he was clearly onside. Ajax kept attacking in the second half, as Ziyech’s shot was palmed to the bar and back to Szczesny. Van De Beek’s curler was saved by the Pole, before Ajax took the lead in the 66th minute through teenage captain Matthijs De Ligt. The defender beat two Juventus players to head past Szczesny. Ajax hung on to claim yet another famous victory, knocking Ronaldo and co. out of the tournament.
4. Juventus 3-2 Atlético Madrid
This tie meant a lot to Cristiano Ronaldo, and he had the first real chance of the game, testing Jan Oblak from a 35 yard free-kick that needed saving. Atletico responded with a low effort from Thomas Partey that Szczesny saved comfortably. The Spanish side were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty in the 26th minute, when Diego Costa was brought down by De Sciglio just outside the box. Griezmann’s free-kick forced Szczesny to another smart save, and the Frenchman was thwarted again by the Pole in the second half when his lobbed effort was palmed to the bar and out for a corner by Giorgio Chiellini. Atletico thought they had taken the lead in the 69th minute, but Alvaro Morata’s header was chalked off by VAR after he was deemed to have pushed Chiellini before heading the ball in. Despite this, the home side did take the lead minutes later, when Jose Maria Jimenez’s reacted first to a loose ball, and the Uruguayan defender slotted past Szczesny. Atletico then got a second from their captain Diego Godin to walk away with a 2-0 first leg victory.
The Turin side started off brightly in the second leg, with Cheillini’s goal disallowed by VAR because Ronaldo challenged Oblak with the ball in the keeper’s grasp. Juventus then took the lead in the 26th minute after Bernardeschi’s cross was powerfully headed in by Cristiano Ronaldo at the far post. Three minutes after the restart, the Portuguese headed in his and Juventus’ second to draw the tie level. His header was clawed out by Oblak but not before it could cross over the line. A brilliant run by Bernardeschi resulted in Angel Correa foolishly bringing him down inside the box, and Ronaldo completed his hat-trick by sending Oblak the wrong way. Juve advanced to the quarterfinals thanks to their Portuguese talisman.
3. Manchester United 3-2 PSG
PSG entered the first leg at Old Trafford without an injured Neymar and an unfit Edinson Cavani. Marcus Rashford had the game’s first shot in the 8th minute, with his effort from a tight angle forcing Gianluigi Buffon to an easy save. Kylian Mbappe then forced David De Gea to a low save in the 52nd minute with a downwards header. The French side took the lead from the ensuing corner after Angel Di Maria’s cross was volleyed in by Presnel Kimpembe. PSG then doubled their lead 8 minutes later when Di Maria again found a PSG player, this time squaring it to Mbappe for the Frenchman to tap home. The night then went from bad to worse for the English side, as Paul Pogba was shown a second yellow for a challenge on Dani Alves. PSG won the first leg 2-0.
United knew they had a mountain to climb in the second leg in Paris, but the task got easier when Romelu Lukaku took advantage of a loose ball from Thilo Kehrer to round off Buffon and score easily in the 2nd minute. Nine minutes later, the French side found a goal of their own. Kylian Mbappe managed to stay onside before latching on to a through ball from Dani Alves to set up Juan Bernat in the far post. Bernat then again forced De Gea to a save three minutes later, before United got their second of the match in the 30th minute. Marcus Rashford’s powerful strike could only be parried by Buffon, and Lukaku was met the rebound first to slot one past the Italian. Bernat hit the outside of the post in the 83rd, before more drama ensued just before stoppage time. Diogo Dalot’s hopeful strike hit the arm of Kimpembe, who turned in the air to try and block the shot. The referee went to VAR to get a closer look, before remarkably awarding a penalty to the English side. Rashford stepped up, and hit a powerful shot past the despairing arms of Buffon. United did the unthinkable, and left Paris 3-3 winners on away goals.
2. Liverpool 4-3 Barcelona
Barcelona and Liverpool met at Camp Nou for the first leg of their semifinal clash. It was former Liverpool player Luis Suarez who got the first goal for Barcelona in the 25th minute. He latched on to Jordi Alba’s through ball to slide a shot past Alisson. Sadio Mane then wasted a glorious chance by hitting the ball over 10 minutes later. Early in the second half, James Milner forced Marc Andre Ter-Stegen to an easy save before Mohamed Salah’s low shot was expertly saved by the German in the 53rd minute. Barcelona doubled their lead in the 74th minute, when Lionel Messi went on a trademark run before finding Suarez. The Uruguayan hit the bar, but the rebound fell straight to the Argentine to tap home to an empty net. Seven minutes later, Messi doubled his tally and scored Barca’s third by hitting a sublime free-kick past Alisson from about 30 yards out. Salah then hit the post right after the restart, before Ousmane Dembele fluffed a glorious chance to make it 4-0 right at the end.
Liverpool went into the second leg without the injured Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. They started off brightly however, and took the lead in the 7th minute after Divock Origi slotted home the rebound from Jordan Henderson’s effort. Six minutes later, it was Barca’s turn to attack as Jordi Alba’s cutback found Messi, but his effort was tipped over the bar by Alisson. The Brazilian again denied Coutinho’s low effort minutes later, before Andrew Robertson’s long shot was palmed away by Ter-Stegen in the 23rd minute. Alisson saved two chances from Alba and Suarez either side of the half, before Georginio Wijnaldum’s strike beat Ter-Stegen to make it 3-2 in the 53rd minute. Two minutes later, it got even better for the hosts as Wijnaldum headed in his second and Liverpool’s third to even the tie. Alisson then saved another effort by Lionel Messi before Liverpool sealed the deal in the 79th minute. A quickly taken corner caught Barca off guard, as Trent Alexander-Arnold found an unmarked Origi in the box. The Belgian slotted home past Ter-Stegen to score Liverpool’s crucial fourth goal. The English side held on to secure an improbable Champions League comeback.
1. Ajax 3-3 Tottenham
Tottenham hosted Ajax at the newly built Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the Champions League semifinal first leg. The away side took the lead in the 14th minute when Hakim Ziyech found Donny Van De Beek inside the box. The Dutch midfielder managed the offside trap before stutter stepping, and eventually putting one past Hugo Lloris’ goal. Van De Beek had a chance to make it two in the 23rd minute. The Dutchman followed up a beautiful team move by deciding to shoot at Lloris instead of squaring to David Neres, but the Frenchman easily saved his effort. Tottenham almost equalized before the break, as two headers from two Kieran Trippier free-kicks were headed wide by Fernando Llorente and Toby Alderweireld respectively. Spurs started off the second half brightly, and missed a host of chances, before Neres’ low drive hit the post in the 77th minute.
The second leg started off brightly for Ajax. Matthijs De Ligt headed in Lasse Schonne’s corner in the 4th minute to give the hosts a 2-0 lead in aggregate. Things soon got even better for Ajax. After Heung-Min Son’s shot hit the post a minute after the goal, the Dutch side made it 3-0 in the 34th minute through Hakim Ziyech’s piledriver of a shot. Andre Onana did well to keep out Dele Alli in the 53rd minute, before Tottenham found a lifeline into the tie. Alli found Lucas Moura on a counter-attack, and the Brazilian slotted home past Onana to give the London side hope. Minutes later, Lucas doubled Spurs’ tally after Onana saved Llorente’s tap-in. A melee ensued inside the box, before the Brazilian kept his cool to score a pivotal second. In the 78th minute, Ziyech’s low effort beat Lloris but hit the post to keep the London side in the tie. Eight minutes later, it was Spurs’ turn to hit the woodwork. Jan Vertonghen met Christian Eriksen’s corner, but his header was kept out by the crossbar and the rebound was cleared off the line. Into the 5th minute of added time, Spurs found the winner. A long, hopeful ball by Moussa Sissoko got flicked on by Llorente onto Dele Alli, and the Englishman expertly passed the ball through to Lucas Moura. The Brazilian hit a low, first time effort past Andre Onana for his hat-trick and most importantly Spurs’ third goal, which gave them the win on away goals, and sealed a final against Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano on June 1st.
featured image credit Washington Post