European drama shows the best of sport

APRIL 14 — Isn't that just why we love sport?

Heading into this week's Champions League quarter-final second legs, it appeared that there was very little to get excited about.

Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid held comfortable leads from their first leg games, and their respective rematches with Roma, Sevilla, Manchester City and Juventus looked like nothing more than predictable formalities.

However, as it transpired only one of the four games followed the expected mediocre script, with Bayern drawing 0-0 at home to Sevilla to make serene progress into the semi-final.

The other three games, though, were action packed with drama after early goals completely changed the complexion of the contests.

In Manchester, that early goal was netted in just the second minute by City forward Gabriel Jesus, leaving Liverpool to endure a distinctly uncomfortable first half which should have led to a two-goal lead for City, only for Leroy Sane to have a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.

Then Liverpool grabbed the all-important away goal through the unstoppable Mo Salah, and the tie was effectively over. But only after the Reds had survived a major scare in a thrilling opening 45 minutes.

There was no such reprieve for Barcelona despite the luxury of a 4-1 lead from the first leg against Roma. The Spanish giants fell behind to an early strike from Edin Dzeko and were then under almost constant pressure until Daniele De Rossi converted a penalty early in the second half after Dzeko was fouled by Gérard Pique.

That left Roma needing just one more goal to take the lead on aggregate, and it duly arrived in a thrilling finish as Kostas Manolas headed home from a corner.

Barcelona still had a few minutes to react but they had been playing so badly that never looked likely, and Roma held on to complete one of the most famous comebacks in Champions League history.

A day later, there was nearly an even more famous comeback as Real Madrid hosted Juventus holding a 3-0 lead which looked practically insurmountable.

Even when Mario Mandzukic scored in the second minute there was no real expectation that the Italian team would be able to turn the tie around.

But then Juve continued to create chances against an alarmingly weak Madrid defence, and before half-time Mandzukic scored another header and the contest had been blown wide open.

The third goal for the visitors came early in the second half after a horrible blunder by Real keeper Keylor Navas, and unbelievably the aggregate score was now level.

Juve needed one more goal to pull off one of the greatest escapes of all-time, but instead it was Real who got the killer blow in dramatic circumstances, winning a 93rd minute penalty.

Legendary keeper Gigi Buffon, probably playing in his last Champions League game before retirement, was sent off for his vociferous complaints about the decision, but despite the long delay Cristiano Ronaldo held his nerve to do what Cristiano Ronaldo does, dispatching an unstoppable penalty into the top right corner to win the tie.

Those games in Manchester, Rome and Madrid contained everything that sport has to offer. There was drama, tension, high emotion, fluctuating fortunes and cliffhanging finishes. We saw heroes (Ronaldo, Manolas, Salah) and villains (Buffon, referee Michael Oliver, Pep Guardiola, Ernesto Valverde), tales of tragedy and tales of redemption (two of Roma’s scorers, Manolas and De Rossi, had netted own goals in the first leg).

The action we saw over the course of three and a half hours in three venues over the course of two nights showed exactly why sport ― and specifically football ― is the best form of drama there is. Better than theatre. Better than movies.

We saw emotion, passion, joy, despair, strength and frailty in all its forms and all of it was totally unscripted, lived and breathed by real human beings who were stretching themselves to the outmost limits of their abilities.

Nobody could have predicted what happened in those three games, and nobody could have scripted it. And that’s why keep coming back for more.

Whichever team you support, however slim the chances of success might appear to be, we can always just hold out for that fragile hope: you never know. And just sometimes, the seemingly impossible becomes true.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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