We finally have the semi-finalists who’ll compete for the coveted trophy in 2018. This week, two matches, in particular, has been, to immediate memory, the most exhaustive and memorable in recent times. In succession, football fans were afforded the chance to witness two occasions so similar in character, yet so dissimilar in their significance.

Roma pulled off a “Barca” and sent the favorites packing, managing to stage one of the most historic comebacks ever recorded in history and providing us with the biggest shock in football this season. The rampaging Romans fought like gladiators and overturned a three-goal deficit from the first leg to win 3-0 at Stadio Olimpico, winning on away goals and booking their place in the semis. Coach Valverde has since come under fire for his overly defensive and languid tactics, choosing not to start Dembele and restricting Messi to the attacking third. A teary Andres Iniesta has hinted towards his early and unexpected retirement, to compile further misery on FC Barcelona.

In the other matchup on Tuesday, Liverpool continued their dream run in the competition and recorded yet another, and unprecedented, victory over Premier League leaders, Manchester City to book their place in the semis. Mo Salah scored yet again, proving himself to be the front-runner for the coveted Ballon d’Or trophy and in the process taking his season tally to 41 in all competitions. The other scorer on the night for the Reds was Firmino, who has quietly taken his tally to 25 in yet another terrific season. The 2-1 win secured an easy 5-1 triumph on aggregate, knocking out the favorites for the trophy this season, Man City, who’ll now have to contend with the Premier League, which in itself is a great achievement.

Wednesday proved to be another exciting prospect as Real looked to preserve their 3-0 lead at the Bernabeu and Sevilla looked to pull off an upset at the home of the Bavarians. While the latter easy held the Spanish side 0-0, the Real-Juve matchup turned out to be a spectacle of football and controversy. Just as Roma did the previous night, the Bianconeri found an early goal through Mandzukic, who rose the highest at the back post to nod in the opener. Ruffled up with the Italians’ onslaught, Madrid launched one of their own and came close through Isco and Ronaldo. Mandzukic doubled his and the team’s tally to send shivers down the spines of the Madridistas who feared a repeat of Roma’s spectacle. As fate would have it, Juve equalized on aggregate and took a commanding lead of 3-0 on the night through Blaise Matuidi, who latched on to a spilled ball after a Navas error. The error could have proved to be fatal but didn’t courtesy some bizarre refereeing, which has been a feature of Real’s CL triumphs over the past two years. Last year it was FC Bayern Munich, and this year Juve fell prey to the vagaries of luck and biased refereeing. Buffon was sent off for dissent, which has immediately been rubbished by media and the football fraternity. Ronaldo scored a 97th-minute penalty to send Real into the semis for the third year in a row, again making them the favorites to lift the trophy.

It remains to be seen what happens with the draws, but Real remain the favorites to lift the trophy in my opinion.

Arnav Srivastava

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