After this Thursday’s evening’s sensational offerings in the Europa League, perhaps the continent’s most ‘elite’ competition is becoming stale by comparison?
Tottenham Hotspur travelled to the San Siro with a 3-0 lead where they faced Inter Milan in the second leg of their last-sixteen clash in the Europa League.
However, Tottenham had all bust lost their advantage by full time, after William Gallas’ own goal deflected past Brad Friedel to put the Italians level 3-3, taking the game to extra time.
It wasn’t until Emmanuel Adebayor’s 96th minute away goal that the odds looked to be in Spurs’ favour – Inter would need two more goals to progress past Tottenham to the quarterfinals. In the end, Ricardo Alvarez’ 110th minute goals, taking the game to 4-1 to the home side, was just one goal short of completing Inter’s comeback successfully.
Whilst Tottenham fans would have likely preferred their team had have saved them the drama and heartbreak – a friend of mine almost checked himself in A&E such was his pulse-rate – for the neutral, it was an incredible spectacle to witness.
I watched the Spurs game from Stamford Bridge where later on Chelsea hosted Steaua Bucharest who travelled with their 1-0 advantage to face the reigning European champions. Like their London rivals Spurs, the Blues made life difficult for themselves in the first half.
After a decent start and a goal from Juan Mata in the 33rd minute, the Blues went in at half-time knowing that they would be going out of the competition after Vlad Chiriches’ 45th minute equalizer put the aggregate scoreline at 2-1 to the Romanians. Chelsea would need two goals to progress past them.
Enter stage right John Terry – the captain returned to manager Rafael Benitez’ line-up and marched his team back into the game with just over half an hour left on the clock. A header from a set-piece and the Blues were back on level terms 2-2 – game on.
Fernando Torres’ winner on 71 minutes completely demoralized the visitors who had looked very sharp and assured in the first half. They tried to restore their advantage but to no avail and even the Spanish striker’s missed penalty made no difference to the outcome as Chelsea booked their place in the last eight.
Meanwhile, at St James’ Park Newcastle and Anzhi Makhachkala were deadlocked with neither side finding the ball capable of breaching the others’ defence for 180 minutes in the tie. The Magpies left their fans clinging to their seats in despair until the 90th minute in injury time when finally Papiss Cisse’s dramatic late winner saw off the visitors who had been reduced to 10 men in the second half.
I am not a Tottenham, Chelsea or Newcastle fan but personally I found these Europa League clashes far more intriguing, exciting and tense than any of Champions League fixtures in the last fortnight.
Arsenal gave Bayern Munich a slight scare, Barcelona did what Barcelona do best and a referee decision was all the excitement on offer at Old Trafford last week.
Perhaps it was just this round or perhaps it’s a trend but the Champions League is a little predictable these days.
Whilst others have pointed to the lack of English teams left in the running, that’s probably the only surprise to me. Aside from Malaga and Galatasaray, the other six teams are fairly obvious contenders.
Both competitions have a fair few surprises left up its sleeve yet but, personally, I shall be waiting in anticipation for 15th May when the Europa League final kicks off at the Amsterdam Arena.
image: © nicksarebi