Cristiano Ronaldo scored what could be a crucial away goal as they lost to Juventus 2-1 in the first leg of the Champions League Semi-Final, and Lionel Messi fired two late goals to help Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich in one of the games of the season.
I recently fell out of love with football. A World Cup full of cheats, and the collapse of my team, Man Utd, has made the whole spectacle a little dour for my taste.
All that changed this week.
My heart is beating again.
When the Champions League Semi Final draw was made, the purists would have been salivating over the thought of an El Clasico final. It looks like the purists will get their wish.
Two days of scintillating, savvy, and strategic sumptuousness. It was football of the highest quality, in particular the match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Gary Neville hit the nail on the head with Dwayne Johnson’s bicep, when he said he had not seen a match of this caliber for years.
All four teams brought something to the party. All the pre match talk was of Ronaldo and Messi, and as expected, they had a big say in both ties, but the supporting cast did a sterling job.
I thought Carlos Tevez was outstanding for Juventus, and with him in your side, you always have a chance no matter where you are playing in the world – and that includes the Bernabeu. I also thought Alvaro Morata was superb. The youngster facing his old team, for the first time since his €20m move in the summer, and netting the first goal no less.
But that man Ronaldo was on hand to score a priceless away goal for Real. It was his 54th goal of the season, and his 76th Champions League goal. It moved him ahead of his archrival, Messi, at the top of those charts. The little Argentinian would provide a ruthless two-goal salvo in response 24-hours later.
A Carlos Tevez penalty means Juventus will head to Spain with a 2-1 lead, but Massimiliano Allegri’s men will regret not adding to that tally, most notably when the substitute Fernando Llorente failed to find the net from the six yard box, heading tamely into the hands of Iker Casillas.
Juventus were much better than I expected, but the away goal will prove crucial. I expect Real Madrid to win the second leg and book their place in that final in Berlin.
They will be joined by Barcelona.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola will be kicking himself tonight. The German stars played their part in one of the most exciting football matches of recent seasons. It had it all. But after Lionel Messi scored in the 77th minute, the Germans seemed to forget they were playing a two-legged tie.
They bombed forward in search of an equalizer, and the Catalan giants made them pay big time. Three minutes after Messi had equaled Ronaldo’s Champions League goal scoring record, he was breaking it. He picked up the ball from deep; surged into the penalty area, put Jerome Boateng on his ass, before coolly chipping the ball over the head of the greatest goalkeeper in the business.
Bayern played a high line all night, and they finally paid the price in the dying minutes, when Messi put Neymar through on goal to calmly slot it pass Neuer to effectively end the tie with 90-minutes remaining.
The Germans were recently in a similar spot. In the quarterfinal first leg they lost 3-1 to Porto. People wrote them off, and they hammered the Portuguese outfit 6-1 at the Allianz Arena to set up this semi-final clash.
But this isn’t Porto.
This is Barcelona, the team who will go through to play against Real Madrid in the final of the 2014-2015 Champions League.
Berlin will provide the canvass; Ronaldo and Messi will provide the art.