As a fan of European soccer, one of my favourite games of the season is the Champions League final – which, this year, will be contested June 1 in Madrid between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC.
This year’s Champions League was a doozy. The knockout rounds saw a series of dramatic upsets and comebacks that I and other fans will discuss for years to come.
In the round of 16, AFC Ajax from the Netherlands shocked soccer fans by defeating the three-time defending Champions League winner, Real Madrid, 5-3 on aggregate (the combined score after two matches). It was a real David vs. Goliath match-up, as Ajax boasted one of the tournament’s youngest rosters and has a tiny operating budget compared to Real Madrid – one of the world's richest and most successful soccer clubs.
Ajax wasn’t done yet, however. In the quarterfinals, the Amsterdam-based club beat Italian champion Juventus FC 3-2 on aggregate. This was another thrilling upset, as the Torino-based club’s roster includes one of the sport’s greatest-ever players in Cristiano Ronaldo. With my own favourite team already eliminated at this point, I quickly jumped on the Ajax bandwagon.
Ajax’s next opponent was Tottenham, which had only made it to the semi-finals due to a controversial last-second goal against Manchester City in the quarterfinals. Ajax looked primed to advance to the Champions League final when it beat the London-based team 1-0 in the first leg. The road to the championship match seemed all but secured in the second leg in Amsterdam, when Ajax took a 2-0 lead into the second half. That meant Tottenham had to score three goals to avoid elimination.
But that’s precisely what happened. Lucas Moura had the game of his life for Tottenham and scored a hat trick in the final half-hour – including a goal in the final few seconds – to knock out Ajax and qualify Tottenham for its first-ever Champions League final. It was a heart-breaking way to see Ajax’s improbable run finally end.
The other semi-final proved equally as dramatic. FC Barcelona breezed through most of the tournament before facing Liverpool in the semi-final. Playing the first leg at home, Barcelona started the tie with a 3-0 win over the English club, with Lionel Messi scoring two of the goals. The result meant Liverpool needed to win 4-0 in the return leg to advance to the final.
And, just like the other semi-final, that is what happened. Liverpool overcame Barcelona with a thrilling performance to book a spot in the final, against Tottenham.
No matter what happens when the two English clubs square off June 1, this year’s Champions League will go down as one of the most dramatic in many years. I can’t wait to see who will be crowned the kings of Europe.