It was an interesting, but heart-aching night for football lovers as the big heads lock horns in the first leg of the Uefa Champions League quarter finals.
For a brief moment, there was stunned silence. It felt as if nobody could comprehend what they had witnessed. Then the applause broke out. It came from all sides of this boisterous arena. In great blocks, the Juventus supporters rose to their feet. It was to recognise sporting genius and it did not matter to them that it had come from a rival.
Cristiano Ronaldo had put Real Madrid in control of this Champions Leaguequarter-final with an early poacher’s finish. He now had them in sight of the next stage and, even by his exulted standards, it was a jaw-dropping intervention. When Dani Carvajal stood up a cross from the right, Ronaldo instinctively knew that the overhead kick was on. He leapt, hung and stretched before, with the ball at its highest point, he swivelled his hips and worked a right-footed masterpiece beyond Gianluigi Buffon.
Ronaldo has 25 goals in his last 14 games for club and country. He has scored in every Champions League tie this season to lead the field for the competition’s Golden Boot with 14. Something seems to stir inside of him when the aria plays. Juventus were broken.
Paulo Dybala, their great hope, was sent off for a high boot on Carvajal, having previously been booked for diving and, when Ronaldo ushered in Marcelo for Real’s third, it was all over. Juventus have won the previous four two-legged ties against Real, going back to 1996, but they need a miracle to progress. After the loss to Real in last season’s final in Cardiff, this was another bitter pill.
Massimiliano Allegri had likened grand Champions League occasions to an evening at La Scala. “We live for nights like this,” read the Juventus slogan on the big screen during the pre-match lights show. One of Europe’s classic matches pulsed with stardust and history, with the subplots rich and numerous.
Zinedine Zidane was once feted as a Juventus player. This was his first return to Turin as a coach. Cardiff had framed the occasion, with Zidane starting with the same Real lineup as he had in last season’s final. Allegri insisted that the tie was not about revenge. Nobody truly believed him.
Ronaldo’s numbers are freakish and needed to be updated – and further gawped at – after three minutes. Marcelo’s lovely switch of feet created the angle for the pass up the left to Isco but it was still shocking to see how much space the Real midfielder had to measure his cross. Ronaldo held his run. Then, he bolted for the near post. When Karim Benzema stood tall in the middle, he effectively set a screen for his team-mate. Andrea Barzagli was blocked off and, when Ronaldo converged, everybody knew what would happen next. It was Ronaldo’s sixth appearance in Real’s colours against Juventus. He has never failed to score against them.
The significance of the away goal was lost on nobody and the tie became shaped to Real’s liking. Juventus had to push; the visitors were more than happy to punch on the counter. With Luka Modric and Isco showcasing sumptuous touches, they threatened another before the interval. Raphaël Varane headed over from a corner when unmarked. Toni Kroos thumped a 25-yard drive against the crossbar.
Juventus looked a little frantic as they chased the equaliser but they had their moments – the biggest coming on 22 minutes. Gonzalo Higuaín volleyed a Dybala free-kick goalwards and it took a wonderful reflex save by Keylor Navas to deny him.
Real were indebted to Sergio Ramos and Varane for important interventions but it felt symptomatic of Juventus’s frustrations that Dybala attempted to win a penalty in the 45th minute with a blatant dive. He was booked. Moments earlier, the home crowd had howled for a penalty when the ball appeared to strike Varane’s arm at close quarters. An award would have been harsh.
The burden on Dybala to create was heavy. He drew a foul from Ramos on 54 minutes for which the defender was booked – the Real captain is suspended for the second leg – and Dybala watched his subsequent free-kick deflect wide. His night would end in ignominy.
Ronaldo had gone close at the start of the second half and he should have completed the hat-trick late on from point-blank range. The substitute Mateo Kovacic rattled the bar. The 12-time champions scent further glory.
Thiago Alcântara’s header gives Bayern Munich upper hand against Sevilla
At the final whistle there was applause and then at one end of this stadium they began to bounce about, chanting about how proud they were of the team that soon came over to clap them back. At the same time, Bayern Munich’s players, headed to the other end. It had not been easy but they had won 2-1, taking an important lead into the second leg. There is still the Allianz Arena to come, but the reaction from the Sánchez Pizjuán felt final, like the fans here knew they had probably reached the end of the road. It is 60 years since Sevilla have come so far and there was reason to be satisfied even if there was reason to be a little sad too. For Bayern, this is familiar territory, but the next step will be harder.
Sevilla always knew this would be difficult, the banner depicting them as Asterix and Obelix spread across one end expressing the enormity of what they had before them, but they had come to believe. “Sevilla score a goal,” the fans sang as the clock ran down. They had scored one in the first half, through Pablo Sarabia, but an own goal from Jesús Navas and a header from Thiago Alcântara had seen Bayern recover to take a 2-1 lead. Now Sevilla tried to find the equaliser, but it was not to be. If Manchester was historic, they will have to do something even more extraordinary in Munich.
For much of the first half, it felt perfectly possible. Carlos Joaquín Correa and Sergio Escudero had first combined as early as the second minute and it was from their left wing that the first chance came. Escudero’s wonderful ball sought out Wissam Ben Yedder and, as Matts Hummels tried to intercept, the ball fell at the feet of Sarabia nine yards out. Sarabia, though, curled it wide. The lament did not last. Just after the half-hour Escudero delivered again, this time long towards the far post. Juan Bernat was slow to the bounce, seemingly unaware of the threat behind him, and Sarabia jumped in front, controlling on the chest and finishing, running to the corner redeemed.
The noise, already deafening, found a way of increasing somehow, the roar rolling round, but Bayern took just six minutes to draw level, fortune favouring the Bavarians. James Rodríguez received from Thomas Müller and, amid the din, spread the play to the left where Franck Ribéry ran at the Sevilla defence. Opening out his body to bend the ball in right-footed, Ribéry instead hit Navas; the ball changed direction and squeezed past David Soria at the near post. Until then a simple catch from Thiago’s long shot was as difficult as it got for a goalkeeper surprisingly included ahead of Sergio Rico.
The great black and white blockade rolls on, although not without a minor scratch.
Juventus were at least made to work a little by Monaco in Turin, emerging as 2-1 winners on the night and 4-1 winners overall in a Champions League semi-final they dominated like a cagey world champion boxer keeping a slick young challenger at bay. At the end of which Max Allegri’s team will be in Cardiff to face Real or Atlético Madrid, a second Champions League final in three years.
They did at least concede a goal here, 689 minutes after the last one in this competition, Kylian Mbappé slipping the ball past Gianluigi Buffon with the game already buried. Yet to be really stretched in the knockout stages, Juventus will provide a mighty obstacle for whichever Spanish team joins them in the final.
Two goals down after the first leg, Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco were not just up against it here, they were crouched beneath extinction’s alp, staring up at the distant, snow-capped prospect of a first final since 2004. Juve had won all previous 11 knockout ties against Ligue 1 opponents. Monaco had never won in Italy in seven attempts.
Plus Juventus’s run to this stage has also bucked the trend for fetishised celebrity front threes. The stars of this team, the cool kids, great beaky broken noses splashed across a million keyboard-fanboy bedroom walls, are the defence. Here Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Andrea Barzagli, combined age 98, lined up once again in a three, with Dani Alves and Alex Sandro the wing backs pushed wide and high.
Monaco got to this stage playing freely and without fear, and so it was here, Buffon flapping at one early cross after a corner had been earned by the endeavour of Benjamin Mendy, a late replacement after Nabil Dirar was injured in the warm-up.
What a replacement too: Mendy was at the Juventus throat straight away, steamrollering up that left flank, from where Monaco threatened the home goal with five minutes gone, Mbappé hitting the post with a cut-back from a fine angle.
Juve were a little rattled. Sami Khedira limped off, replaced by Claudio Marchisio. Mendy and Mbappé continued to carry the fight, Mbappé battling with Chiellini with his back to goal and showing wonderful composure and skill on the ball when he managed to turn.
Juventus settled though, and began to make headway on their right, where Alves linked nicely with Gonzalo Higuaín. Some strikers have a yard of space in their head. Matched against Monaco’s super-svelte athletes, Higuaín looked at times like he keeps one up his jumper. But even carrying that little extra wheelbarrow of Higuaín around his movement is full of menace and three times he scampered in on goal. A hopeless dinked finish drifted wide. A low poke drew a fine low save from Danijel Subasic. Later Higuaín got beyond the last man but had to stop and shoot from 20 yards out as the central defence closed the space.
The goal was coming, albeit it arrived from a break the full length of the pitch. Buffon threw the ball netball style to Alex Sandro, who zoomed off into the open grass. The ball found its way out to Alves on the right. His deep cross was headed powerfully at goal by Mario Mandzukic. Subasic saved, Mandzukic smashed the rebound high into the net and the Curva Sud dissolved into a huge seething bank of gleeful noise.
Juve were surging away, looking like a team that have arrived at the season’s final breaths in good health, poised on the verge of a sixth straight Serie A title, gears functioning, moving parts grooved and settled.
Monaco almost snatched one back, Mbappé denied a tap-in after brilliant work from Mendy by Chiellini’s last-ditch interception.
And almost immediately it was 2-0 on the night, Alves smashing the ball on the volley past Subasic from outside the right side of the area after the ball had looped back to him. It was an extraordinary finish, and at a killer time just before the break. Monaco trooped off looking a little numb, for all their energy reeled in by more seasoned opponents, the tie seized with ruthless, controlled brilliance.
Paolo Dybala was taken off after 55 minutes of neat, spiky playmaking as Max Allegri looked to close to the game down. Monaco would not be cowed though.
Ten minutes later Buffon produced a wonderful reflex save at his near post and with 68 minutes gone Monaco achieved something of genuine note by finally putting a goal past this Juventus defence, the first from open play in the 12th game of this Champions League campaign. Mbappé scored it, becoming the youngest player to score in a semi-final in this format, darting in to turn in João Moutinho’s cut-back.
There was a minor rumble in the Juve penalty area after Fabinho had gone down dramatically, shortly after Kamil Glik had clearly stamped on Higuaín at the other end as he tumbled in front of him.
From there the game became a celebratory final trot, the Juventus Stadium already rising to this settled, powerful team full of craft, who will now look to Cardiff and the chance to become champions of Europe again
- Italy international flies to London for medical ahead of transfer
- Zaza will join initially on loan with obligation to buy next summer
West Ham’s summer-long search for a striker which has taken them on a meandering trek around Europe was finally nearing completion on Friday night after Simone Zaza flew to London to complete his medical.
The Italy striker will initially move to the London Stadium on loan, although West Ham have signed a deal which means they will pay Juventus a club record £24m in 12 months’ time for the 25-year-old.
Having made a £15m bid for Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson before last season had ended, the co-chairman David Sullivan made it his priority to attract a proven goalscorer to the club this summer but offers for Michy Batshauyi and Alexandre Lacazette were rebuffed.
A £26m move for the Milan striker Carlos Bacca then dragged on for weeks, with the Colombia international eventually opting to stay in Italy. But with Andy Carroll ruled out for up to six weeks and his record signing André Ayew unlikely to play again this year after suffering a thigh injury, Slaven Bilic’s desire to sign a new forward has heightened.
The disastrous defeat by the Romanians Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League qualifiers for the second season in succession highlighted West Ham’s lack of options up front, with only the Argentinian Jonathan Calleri – signed on loan from Deportivo Maldonado earlier this month – and the former Manchester United forward Ashley Fletcher as the only recognised strikers in Bilic’s squad.
“With the Zaza situation it looks very likely to happen and should happen today,” Bilic said ahead of Sunday’s trip to Manchester City. “As far as I know the deal is agreed between clubs. The personal terms are also agreed and he is due in London today, so we hope it will be done.
“It’s very positive and it’s a boost. We’ve been trying for a long time now to get a top-quality striker and he was always mentioned.”
The Croatian was even forced to resort to throwing the central defender James Collins into his attack as West Ham chased the game on Thursday and he admitted they have not had the best luck in pre-season. “With strikers, we are short now because of injuries but those players will come back – some of them very soon,” he said. “André Ayew is due back at the end of November, so there is no point in adding too many players in that position.”
The Player of the Year Dimitri Payet, who scored nine goals last season before representing France at Euro 2016, has so far made two appearances this season but could be in contention to start against City along with Manuel Lanzini.
The captain, Mark Noble, should be available after he was rested against Astra, although another new signing – Havard Nordtveit – is set to miss out.
“Nordtveit got a kick on his foot again last night after he got a kick against Chelsea,” said Bilic. “He’s very likely to be out on Sunday.” “Mark Noble should be all right. With Payet and Lanzini we’ll also know tomorrow. Maybe one of them. After this game we have an international break for a couple of weeks and we need them. If there is no risk, we’ll use them.”
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Guardian UK/VBetNews