Drama has never been hard to come by in the UEFA Champions League latter stages and this season’s semifinals produced it’s fair share.
The first semifinal involved English giants, Liverpool and Spanish underdogs, Villarreal. Any avid follower of Premier League football would’ve called this a walk in the park for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool but it wasn’t that straightforward. The first leg of the semi-final took place at the famous Anfield in England, with the red machine rolling over their opponents from Spain with two unanswered goals. Liverpool stifled the threat of the yellow submarine, keeping Unai Emery’s side to only one shot and none on target.
The second leg at the El Marigal in Spain didn’t go as smoothly for the English side. Villarreal scored two first half goals to balance the tie and keep the dream of an unlikely upset alive. However, Liverpool came out roaring in the second half with 3 goals in 12 minutes to knock the air out of the Villarreal resistance. The tie ends with a 5-2 aggregate scoreline guaranteeing a return to the Champions League final for Liverpool. Last time they were in the final was in 2019 were they defeated fellow English side, Tottenham Hotspur to win their sixth title.
If the first semifinal was a drama flick, the second one can only be described as an all action blockbuster.
League leading Manchester City were drawn against Spanish title winning Real Madrid. This tie promised a lot and boy did it deliver.
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In the first leg at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, City scored two goals in the first 11 minutes and seemed to be in total control of the tie but the resilience from Real Madrid shone through. The team from Spain seemed to always have an answer for every body blow from the Manchester team. They got a goal back in the first half to go into the break only down by one goal. In the second half, City added two more goals but so did Madrid as the game ended 4-3. Despite being thoroughly outplayed, Real Madrid were only down by one goal after the first leg and the tie was heading back to the historic Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Spain where Champions League magic seems to always be present.
A goalless first half in the second leg didn’t seem to deter the Real Madrid fans in the stadium as they made sure the players knew they were firmly behind them. The tie was still in the balance.
In the 73rd minute, Riyad Mahrez put the visitors in front and had Manchester City fans dreaming of yet another battle against Liverpool in the final. However, Real Madrid would not lie down, they needed at least two goals to get the tie into extra time and give themselves a shot. In the 90th minute, 20-year-old Rodrygo got on the end of a cross from Benzema to equalize on the day and give his team a glimmer of hope. Less than a minute after, he got on the end of another cross and now Real Madrid were in front on the night and were now tied on aggregate at 5-5 prompting another 30 minutes to decide who gets through.
Madrid had looked down and out and now they were tied, 30 minutes to decide who plays Liverpool in the final. If you were a Madrid fan you would be expecting one man to come through and get you there and he did exactly that. Karim Benzema stepped up in the 95th minute to take a penalty after he was brought down in the box by Ruben Dias. In the first leg, he scored a penalty against City’s Ederson with a cheeky panenka but this time he sent the goalie the wrong way with a precise penalty. Now, the tie had turned on it’s head, the Spanish giants were in front of the first time over two legs and all they had to do was stay in front and that’s exactly what they did.
Real Madrid are back in the final again dreaming of their 14th UEFA Champions League title. The last time they were in the final was in 2018, where they defeated Liverpool in a game filled with talking points. Now the two teams meet again with Liverpool looking to avenge the defeat and add yet another title to their stacked trophy cabinet.
The UEFA Champions League Final is set for May 28, 2022 and will take place at the Stade de France. This will be the third time the two sides will meet in a European Cup final, making it the first final repeated thrice between two teams. In the 1981 final, Liverpool triumphed with a sole goal as they won their third European trophy at the time.
Who will come out victorious? I guess we’ll find out soon.