An all-English epic | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 19, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, April 19, 2019

UEFA Champions League

An all-English epic

In an enthralling night of Champions League football, Manchester City and Tottenham served up a dramatic encounter – the first few minutes enough to render it a classic -- responsible for the most absorbing, exhilarating all-English European meeting in this competition's storied history.

There would be seven goals, five of them coming in a pulsating 17 minutes. The decisive seventh was contentious but given by VAR, and what-would-have-been a stoppage-time winner was ruled out by that same technology.

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City had the lead on the night they required after just four minutes, but would squander it after just three more. Aymeric Laporte made the first of two costly errors, intercepting but failing to trap Dele Alli's through pass. The ball rolled into the path of Son, who drove it in.

When Sterling opened the scoring inside four minutes, it seemed as though the 1-0 first-leg deficit could be quite easily overturned. Two quick-fire goals by Son Heung-Min challenged that but City's response was superb.

First through Bernardo Silva, then Sterling again and finally, in the second half, Sergio Aguero, City recovered from Son's early sucker punch and took control for the first time in this tie.

Tottenham's aggregate advantage was restored and soon doubled by Son, courtesy of another Laporte mistake. The City centre-half's touch was uncharacteristically heavy, allowing Lucas Moura to nip in.

He was tracked well by Ilkay Gundogan and discouraged from shooting himself, but when Christian Eriksen found Son lurking on the brink of the box, his whipped, perfectly-placed attempt found the top right-hand corner.

Like against Liverpool at this stage of the competition last year, and like with Bayern Munich in previous seasons, a Guardiola side had collapsed in one sudden burst. In the past, they have been too shell-shocked to muster a response. Not this time.

Merely a minute after Son's second, Aguero saw an unmarked Bernardo, careering into the penalty area. His strike was untidy, deflecting off the inside of Danny Rose's leg, but that shift in movement was enough to divert the ball inside the near post.

City's momentum was building to a deafening crescendo. When the goal came in the second half, it was typical Aguero: hit hard, at an acute angle, from a position where only the very best can profit.

Then came one of the defining moments as the ball bounced in off Llorente, hitting somewhere between his thigh and arm. It was not in an unnatural position, but Guardiola was one of many to spot the potential infringement. Pochettino wagged his finger. Referee Cuynet Cakir sided with the visiting manager. Llorente's dubious goal stood.

Once again, City needed a goal. Any goal. Sterling thought he had found it in the five minutes of stoppage time, turning the ball home amid a crowded penalty area, finding the one corner of space left unguarded. The Etihad erupted, finally in full voice, but VAR intervened. It would have been Sterling's hat-trick and, coming in the 94th minute, almost certainly the killer blow. It appeared that City had pulled off a remarkable feat. No off-side flag had gone up but VAR had the benefit of replays and it showed that Aguero had strayed marginally offside in the build-up. 

In the end, Spurs had VAR on their side but they had also played with great togetherness to make the semifinals.

A simply incredible game had its incredible, if cruel, finish. This was this stadium's first great European night, but not in the way Guardiola had intended.

What they said

It was unbelievable. My players are heroes.

-- Mauricio Pochettino

I support VAR but maybe from one angle Fernando Llorente's goal is handball, maybe from the referee's angle it is not. It is cruel but it is what it is and we have to accept it.

-- Pep Guardiola

I have never seen something like this. It was a very tough game, a very crazy game. It was madness.

-- Son Heung-min

I think I must be one of the luckiest guys on the planet today. With the last one they scored, I thought it was over. Thank God the ref gave offside.

-- Christian Eriksen

Thoughts at this time are with all those that don't like football.

-- Gary Lineker 

If you ever tire of football, the Gods send a Messi, an Ajax, a City-Spurs to remind us that this game is simple but covers all the spectrum of emotions. And it is a wonderful way to spend time. Not many will be able to sleep much tonight for one reason or another. 

--Guillem Balague

One of those days that you feel genuinely sorry for people who don't like football. That was sensational.

--Richard Osman

That minute - Sterling's goal, the bedlam, the desolation, the pause, the hush, the bedlam, the desolation - is genuinely one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen.

--Rory Smith

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