The soccer news starts with another Champions League underdog. Though it's hard to describe any team making it this far in Europe that way, half the semifinal field is what we'll respectively call "unexpected." Spurs joins Ajax in the spoiler's semifinal after they knocked out Manchester City on away goals.
With all the criticism Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola faced after falling behind 1-0 in the first-leg, the home leg compounded his problems. Manchester City won on the night 4-3 in a surprisingly open game given the stakes. Raheem Sterling had City up in the 4th minute, but Son Heung-min had Spurs level in the 7th and ahead in the 10th. Bernardo Silva equalized for Manchester City in the 11th with Sterling scoring again in the 21st. Sergio Aguero made it 4-2 City in the 59th. Fernando Llorente equalized in the 73rd that required VAR to confirm it as a goal. That's the hard way out of a tournament for Manchester City.
"Yeah, it’s tough. It’s cruel but we have to accept it," Guardiola said. "It was a nice game for everyone. Second-half we did everything. We scored the goals we needed but congratulations to Tottenham and all the best for the semifinals. I support VAR. But maybe from one angel the goal from Llorente is handball, maybe from the referee it is not. I am fine for fair football and fair decisions. The referee must be helped. In the future and the present, it will be fair and that’s all."
What this creates for Ajax is interesting. They're no longer quite the underdogs they would've been had City done as expected and advanced. Instead, they're playing a Spurs team with their own issues over the course of this season. Though it's easy enough to say now with Tottenham in the Champions League semifinals, some of the criticism directed their way wasn't fair. This is a team capable of refocusing when their best player isn't available, showing that they can get the result on the biggest stage against a fellow Premier League team. Should they get past Ajax, they may need to do that all over again.
Liverpool saw off Porto 4-1 on the night and 6-1 on aggregate to setup a semifinal series with Barcelona. Sadio Mane put Liverpool up at the Estadio do Dragao in the 26th minute with Mohamed Salah scoring in the 65th. Porto's Eder Militao pulled a goal back in the 68th, but that was the only bright spot for the hosts. Goals from Roberto Firmino in the 77th and Virgil van Dijk in the 84th capped a mismatch of a series.
"I don’t think it’s a result that reflects the two games," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. "In the first game, we were the clear better side - 2-0 is OK, but we dominated the game, we played a really good football game - and that made life really difficult for Porto. Tonight, it was the other way around, they made our life very difficult, they were really direct. It is really nice to be part of a game like this when the crowd is like this and behind the team, even as the away team and obviously they didn’t like us too much, it was a very good football atmosphere, they used it. It was so powerful the game of Porto and so difficult to deal with, but we scored the goals and that’s how a result like this can happen."
Klopp wasn't being magnanimous here. When pushed, Liverpool needed time to recover and alter their game plan. They did that against an over-matched team, taking some of the gloss off of the lopsided aggregate score. This wasn't the same level of game control Barcelona showed against Manchester United, something that should concern the rest of the semifinal field. It's not just finding a way to stop Lionel Messi from doing amazing things. It's controlling the game so what your team does well has a chance to work. That's a big ask for Liverpool. It's an even bigger ask from the other side of the bracket.
Also in the soccer news, Vancouver shutout LAFC at home on a 27th minute Hwang In-beom goal. Maxime Crepeau made three saves to keep the clean sheet.
"What (Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos) told me was you are not a finished player, you are a developing player," In-beom said. "So even if you’re an international and even if you’re a DP for the team, you are not Wayne Rooney, you are not Zlatan. What Marc told me was that I want you to be Inbeom on the team. So that really helped me to set the mindset."
Yahoo's Leander Schaerlaeckens on the Champions League quarterfinal surprises. Reuters' Simon Evans looks at what VAR does to the flow of a game. The NY Times' Rory Smith describes the scene at the Etihad Stadium. The Guardian's Jonathan Wilson looks at what the loss means for Pep Guardiola's reputation.
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