By Yobel Petros ‘24
Juventus Vs Villareal
Throughout the game, Villareal was forced to sit deep for long periods of time, thanks to the post and Gerónimo Rulli’s succession of excellent saves that kept Juventus at bay, before unleashing a spectacular three-goal counter-punch in the last 12 minutes. With it, Villarreal has advanced to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the third time in their history. Unai Emery’s side put in a near-perfect European away performance, but they needed Rulli to lay the foundation in the first half. The visiting goalkeeper denied Alvaro Morata and Duan Vlahovi with fine saves inside the first 20 minutes and was grateful to see the latter’s cute shot come off the crossbar. Before the break, Rulli and Vlahovi were at it again, with a point-blank stop this time keeping the score even. Gerard Moreno started Villarreal on their way when he converted – narrowly – from the penalty spot, turning the tide in the blink of an eye. Pau Torres then scored from close range to ensure Villarreal’s advancement, with Arnaut Danjuma adding gloss with a penalty kick of his own in additional time. Both teams may be forgiven for being perplexed about how it came to be.
LOSC vs Chelsea
Chelsea has advanced to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals after holding off a revival from LOSC Lille, with Christian Pulisic and César Azpilicueta scoring in northern France as Chelsea came from behind to win 4-1 on aggregate. The scoreline may appear to be comfortable, but make no mistake: Chelsea’s credentials were scrutinized in northern France. The hosts were instructed by former LOSC coach Rudi Garcia to “insert elements of lunacy into this clash,” and they did it at times. The holders were rocked for a brief time as Burak Yilmaz scored from the penalty spot. Jorginho made amends right before the interval, closing off a complex move with a delightful through pass that Pulisic received before firing an exquisite strike across the goal into the bottom corner. LOSC was not finished yet, as they went into the second period with a renewed sense of purpose. Burak came close, and Agim Zeka hit the post with a header, but Azpilicueta eased Chelsea’s nerves by turning in Mason Mount’s cross with his knee to seal the draw.
Manchester United vs Atletico Madrid
Atlético Madrid’s Renan Lodi scored in the first half and Atlético’s defense held firm in the second as Diego Simeone’s side triumphed 2-1 on aggregate at Old Trafford. In a first half marked by effort but few chances, Anthony Elanga was stopped by Jan Oblak’s head from a low Bruno Fernandes cross, and Rodrigo De Paul’s deflected attempt was punched away by David de Gea. For the visitors, Joo Félix had the ball in the net, but Marcos Llorente had strayed offside before setting up the Portuguese striker. The Red Devils were given a relief when Joo Félix’s back-heel freed Antoine Griezmann, who lined up an inviting cross to the far post for Renan Lodi to head home. After the half, Ralf Rangnick’s side piled on the pressure and came close to leveling when Jadon Sancho’s fierce volley fizzed just over. With a thundering header from Alex Telles’ free-kick, Raphael Varane believed he had forced extra time, but Oblak continued his incredible fight as Atlético dug in to see out the remaining minutes to escape with the 2-1 aggregate win.
Ajax vs Benfica
After a tough defensive showing in Amsterdam, Darwin Nez’s late header sent Benfica through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-2 aggregate triumph. The first half was all Ajax, much as when the clubs met in Lisbon. Antony menaced down the right, Duan Tadi plotted on the left, and Ryan Gravenberch gently strolled in the middle like a man in velvet slippers. Despite their superiority, the hosts had nothing to show for it at halftime. Soualiho Meté came in to break up Ajax’s flow, and Benfica comfortably kept the Dutch team at bay until they got a free-kick near the corner flag with 13 minutes remaining. To put Benfica through, Lex Grimaldo swung it in, and Darwin ascended gloriously above his marker and past the onrushing André Onana to bang the goal in, giving Benfica the winning score.