And then there were four. The UEFA Champions League (UCL) quarterfinal games went back and they went forth. Four absolutely riveting ties with 8 games to decide who is worthy. There were goals, saves, offsides, comebacks, close finishes and, of course, heartbreaks.
Paris Saint-German got their revenge. Bayern Munich are now only academic defending champions. They won, drew and lost their game in Paris all at the same time. That is the beauty of the Champions League. Porto, once again, came close and gave the world one moment to stare at wide-eyed. However, the blue barrier, was one too many to mount. In both ties, the goals in the first leg were enough to see the teams through.
Liverpool, meanwhile, did not get their revenge. Jurgen Klopp's men created plenty of chances without finding a breakthrough. They are now sixth in the league and knocked out of every cup competition. Real Madrid showed their European pedigree with a mature performance. Manchester City's Phil Foden betrayed his young years with a mature performance himself as City matched home and away scorelines to progress to the semi-final. A jinx was broken hence.
UCL quarterfinal: Real Madrid vs Liverpool
The first rematch of a previous final did not quite throw old rendezvous. Mo Salah's shot at revenge was taken away by an injury to Sergio Ramos. That, however, stood no barrier to a dominant home performance by Madrid. Playing in their training facility, the Spanish giants carried a 3-1 advantage to Anfield. On the night of the first leg, the experienced Madrid midfield presented a footballing exhibition.
Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro completely controlled the game. It was played at the pace Madrid wanted. Liverpool, however, did not offer much in unsettling the 13-time champions. They looked a jaded side - tired and out of legs. It felt as though their souls have already made peace with a season gone wrong. No gegenpressing, no heavy metal football, no controlled hara-kiri. Not even that famous Liverpool intensity. Only mistakes - passing, goalkeeping and team selection.
And young Vinicius Jr accepted all of that with glee. He scored two goals on the night and if Marco Asensio were a little more precise, the Brazilian could have scored a hattrick.
There would be no trick in the second leg though. Madrid showed their gritty side at Anfield with a very different European performance than seen in recent years. Zidane's men dropped deep to play a low block and although Liverpool created multiple chances, they failed to keep their shots on target.
But this was not before the home side forced two fantastic saves from Courtois. Liverpool had caught Real's early high line out when Mane squared for Salah. But, with the goal gaping, Salah only managed to hit the left boot of Courtois. Moments later, James Milner's long-range effort saw a barrier in the goalkeeper's right hand. Benzema capped off the frenetic first 20 minutes with a solo attempt that saw him hit the base of the post.
Aggregate Score: 3-1
UCL quarterfinal: Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund
An injury ruled out Jadon Sancho's homecoming in the first leg. But, his former U-17 teammate Phil Foden was present; and very much central to action. The FIFA U-17 World Cup Golden Ball winner was also the scorer of the winning goal for Manchester City on the night. Foden had missed two golden opportunities to put City two goals ahead. And his misses would almost cost City had Kevin De Bruyne and former Dortmund man, Ilkay Gundogan not combined to set up Foden's calm finish at the stroke of 90 minutes.
De Bruyne completed yet another accomplished performance. It was him that opened the scoring at Etihad in a move so synonymous now with Pep Guardiola's City. Choke the opposition. Intercept the ball in the middle. Pass it to De Bruyne. And then the Belgian ran past the opposition to find a wide man, who squared it in and then Riyad Mahrez set De Bruyne up for a finish sans fuss.
But, this was not your everyday Manchester City affair. They did not run away with it at any point. Dortmund had the game tied till the very end through a Marco Reus goal - set up by Erling Haaland. In fact, Dortmund would feel hard done by this equaliser not being the goal to give them the lead. Earlier in the night, 17-year-old Jude Bellingham was denied, what seemed, a legitimate equalizer on his return home.
But the young Englishman was not to be denied in Germany as he gave Dortmund an early lead, courtesy a fine finish. However, the German joy would be short lived as City made a comeback in the second half. Mahrez got the equaliser after VAR decided to uphold a controversial penalty. Emre Can was implicated after he headed the ball onto his bicep.
And a Foden whiplash later, City were all but guaranteed a semi-final spot with 15 minutes of the tie still to play. Same scoreline, same scorer and blue delight. Foden's goal was a thing of beauty to cap off a typical Guardiola move. Short corner. Find your technically gifted little man on the edge of the area. A left-foot strike which arrows into the bottom corner.
Aggregate Score: 4-2
UCL quarterfinal: Porto vs Chelsea
Porto found no comfort in their home away from home. No heroics in this one. Favourites Chelsea arrived in Porto's adopted home in Sevilla and scored two decisive goals without retort. And away goals at that. Mason Mount opened the scoring for Thomas Tuchel's side in the first half to rest blue nerves.
And it was a genius few seconds from the Chelsea player. He received the ball on the half-turn from Jorginho. And in one motion, swung his body around akin to pirouetting. It was so smooth and dizzying that it left Zaidu Sanusi on the turf searching for his elusive opposition. In the very next moment, he lashed his laces through the ball. The bemused Sanusi had barely turned around when he saw a Champions League imprinted football arrow past his goalkeeper.
Porto had their moments on either side of the Mount goal and came close on couple of occasions. Otavio and Uribe, in either half, had Mendy beaten but the ball ended up narrowly on the wrong side of goal. The Portuguese side were then dealt a hammer blow by Ben Chilwell in the dying minutes. He capitalized on an error by Jesus Corona to score Chelsea's second.
And that first leg lead would be enough to see Chelsea through. Porto's mountain to scale was too high. They made a valiant effort to climb to the peak but only managed a 93rd minute consolation courtesy of Mehdi Taremi. The goal, however, was absolutely mesmerizing. One that would be remembered among the best. A leap, a pirouette and a connection mid air. It was an overhead kick that deserved live audience.
The goal did not count for more. It could have. Taremi had come close earlier in the night from a headed chance but could only draw a save from Mendy. Corona, who provided the cross for the Taremi chance, may himself feel grieved for snatching at a chance he had in the first half to make the tie interesting.
Aggregate Score: 1-2
UCL quarterfinal: Bayern Munich vs PSG
Kylian Mbappe. And Kylian Mbappe again. The Frenchman turned up at the Allianz Arena and made it his own. He seems to like a first leg tie against European heavyweights. A hattrick against Barcelona in Paris. Two against the European champions in their backyard; in Munich.
Mbappe's twin strike was sandwiched by three goals on the night including one from teammate Marquinhos. At the point of the Brazilian's goal, PSG went two goals ahead on enemy territory. A high line against pacy forwards with slow defenders. Hansi Flick had got it wrong and PSG cut them open with flair and finality. Neymar brought the flair. Mbappe the finality. The former with two left-footed assists. The latter with two right-footed finishes. The second of which wiped Bayern's revival and got PSG a third goal.
From 0-2 to 2-2, however, was a story of Bayern reshuffle. Flick introduced Alphonso Davies for Goretzka pushing Alaba to join Kimmich in midfield. Boateng replaced Sule to add more pace to the backline. It ensured a fun night of breathtaking, end to end football.
The changes Flick made in the first-leg was the starting line-up for Bayern in the second leg. There was hope for Bayern when their former player Chuopo-Moting scored. But, that was only enough for a narrow victory on the night which saw PSG progress on away goals. On the balance of play, it was a deserved result. In fact, it was only due to PSG's lack of precision in the Bayern box did the game retain its nervy touch in the dying stages.
Neymar, who was brilliant on the night, should really have capped his performance off with a goal. The Brazilian hit the post once, the bar once and had Neuer rushing off his line to deny him a third time.
Aggregate Score: 3-3 (PSG win on away goals)