What’s the best soccer tournament in the world? A lot of you would answer the FIFA World Cup, and you would have a valid point. Nothing ignites passions like the biggest international tournament on the planet. But if you’re looking to watch soccer played in its highest form, then look no further than the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s continental tournament.
For those familiar with the competition, you’ll know that the first leg of the semifinals takes place this week, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Liverpool faces AS Roma on Tuesday, while Bayern Munich and Real Madrid clash on Wednesday, as the Spanish giants continue their quest for their third consecutive trophy, a feat that has never been achieved in the tournament’s current format.
The Champions League is a tournament that takes place through all six FIFA continental confederations, the goal being to crown a club as the champion of each confederation, who all qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup. In North America, the Concacaf Champions League is in its final breath, as Toronto FC and Chivas Guadalajara play their second leg on Wednesday night. Chivas won the first leg in Toronto by a 2-1 score.
Europe’s final four
This year’s edition of the competition featured 32 teams as always, split into eight groups of four, with teams from the same country split into different groups. After each team plays the other teams in its group twice, the top two teams progress to the round of 16. That’s when the two-leg fixtures begin, all the way until the final, which is one game played at a predetermined stadium. This year’s final will be inNSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine.
The road to the semi-final is hard and arduous, and each team had high hurdles to jump to get to this stage of the competition. Let’s look at each team’s road ahead of their matchups this week.
The Reds have only won the competition’s modern format once, in 2005, in what was one of the most memorable finals in recent history. Down 3-0 to AC Milan after the first half, Liverpool stormed back, scoring three goals in a six-minute spell, and eventually winning in a penalty shootout, dubbing the match the miracle of Istanbul.
Liverpool has struggled in the competition as of then until this year. A steady coaching performance from Jurgen Klopp has settled the team defensively. Up front, Mohamed Salah has been a revelation thus far, with Roberto Firmino filling in the number 9 role splendidly, and Sadio Mané usually manning the left wing. If it hadn’t been forPhilippe Coutinho’s transfer to Barcelona, Liverpool would have had another ace up its sleeve.
Liverpool cruised through the group stage, finishing first without losing any games. After beating FC Porto handily in the round of 16, it was to be an all English matchup in the quarterfinals, as they drew Manchester City. Considered underdogs, Liverpool went on to win the first leg 3-0, and cruised to a 2-1 victory in the second leg as well.
The Italian club is not one you usually see in the deeper stages of the competition. Since the turn of the century, Roma has made it only as far as the quarterfinals, before being eliminated from the continental competition. This year proved to be a little different, most definitely thanks to the team’s second leg heroics against FC Barcelona in the quarterfinals, a performance that left the world of football stunned.
Roma finished first of its group and drew FC Shakhtar Donetsk from Ukraine in the round of 16. After losing the first game 2-1 in Ukraine, Roma returned home and put on a perfect defensive performance, winning 1-0 and progressing through the away goal rule.
The first leg of the quarterfinals was a disaster for Roma, losing 4-1 to the Catalan club at Camp Nou. Little did they know at the time that the one little away goal they scored would be so important. Roma would go on to put one of the best performances in its history in the competition, beating a stunned Barcelona 3-0 to complete the miracle in Rome. Next up: Mohamed Salah and Liverpool FC.
It isn’t really a Champions League semi-final without Bayern Munich. Since 2010, the German club has only missed this stage of the competition in 2011 and 2017. Unfortunately, however, they were most recently eliminated by none other than Real Madrid, last year in the quarterfinals. The good news is Bayern will now get a shot at revenge just a year later, with the ultimate prize of participating in its first final since it won the competition in 2013.
Still featuring Bayern veterans like Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, and Franck Ribery, and adding prominent players over the years like striker Robert Lewandowski, Arturo Vidal and most recently, James Rodriguez, FC Bayern Munich is constantly a part of Europe’s elite, and with payback on its mind, it makes the task that much harder for the defending champions.
Unfortunately for Turkish side Beşiktaş, they drew the German powerhouse in the round of 16 and were plummeted 8-1 over two legs. Sevilla fared better in the quarterfinals, losing the first game 2-1 but only managing a scoreless draw in leg 2.
Real Madrid C.F.
Over the years, Real Madrid has proven that it is the hardest team to beat in the continental competition. Rare it is to find utter domination in such a high-level competition, across all sports. What Real Madrid has managed to do is nothing short of spectacular. After winning the competition two consecutive times, a feat that had never been achieved in the modern era – although Madrid, back in the ‘50s, did win it five times in a row, while the Canadiens were winning their five consecutive Stanley Cups –, the Spanish team will be looking to make it three straight, and considering the team’s level of play since the competition started, it seems more likely than not that it will happen, not to mention that Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in 11 straight Champions League games going back to last year.
Madrid’s road to the semifinals was by far the most difficult among the four teams left. The team finished second in its group behind Tottenham, and had to face one of the competition’s favorites, Paris Saint-Germain, in the round of 16. After beating the French side 5-2, it was on to Italy’s best, where Juve’s supporters were blessed with one of the competition’s greatest goals ever during the first leg in Torino. With Madrid already up by two, Cristiano had the home fans applauding his bicycle-kick effort to make it 3-0. The second leg saw its fair share of drama however. The Italian side managed to score three goals in the second leg, but a 90th minute penalty allowed Ronaldo to play hero again and push Madrid through, 4-3 on aggregate.