The week featured semi-finals of Europe’s elite competitions with the Champions league and the Europa League in its last four stage, after the pairings were made, a lot of pundits and football lovers expected tight encounters with most of the games deemed to go down the wire and some even predicting that fixtures may not be decided after the second legs and may require extra time or even penalty shoot-outs to declare the winner.
Real Madrid VS Athletico Madrid was the highlight fixture of the Champions league semi-final round following the rivalry between both sides not just in the La Liga but in recent finals of the Champions league. In 2014, Madrid required a late equalizer from Sergio Ramos to force the game into extra time before going on to win by 4 goals to 1, then in 2016, both teams featured yet again in a game played at the San Siro and after 90 minutes yet again, there was still no separating both sides as it ended one goal apiece with Real Madrid winning after penalty shootouts. This time around though, a second derby hat-trick in one season from Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored 103 Champions league goals gave Madrid a commanding 3-0 win in the first leg tie and following how difficult to beat Zidane has built his team over the course of the season, rotating and adjusting well to games, there is no coming back from this for Diego Simeone’s side who themselves are naturally better at defending leads than over-turning them.
The second semi-final saw Italian Champions Juventus away at Monaco, the game billed as the battle of the immovable defense against the unstoppable attack with the ageing Juventus back-line of Gigi Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini predicted to face their strongest test of the season against Colombian forward Radamel Falcao who has re-discovered top form and the sensational Kylian Mbappe, Allegri’s side however proved that they could find a balance between defending and attacking, two sublime strikes from Gonzalo Higuain, both created by Dani Alves ensured the Bianconeris are well on their way to a second Champions league final in 3 years. Juventus shut out Monaco from scoring at home for the first time since November 2015 and whilst the young stars of Monaco will be giving it another go in 6 days time, the experienced players of the Old Lady have seen enough of games like this and barring a major loss of concentration, there is no way they will let this slip.
In the Europa league, Lyon were handed a thrashing by the very young Ajax side as their visit to the Amsterdam Arena ended up in a 4-1 defeat, on loan Chelsea forward Bertrand Traore struck twice with Mathieu Valbuena giving the French side an away goal that retains their slim chance of turning the deficit in the return leg. Ajax extended their winning streak at home to 12 games and are well on course for a final berth in Europe once again. In the second semi-final tie, Celta Vigo lost at home to English giants Manchester United despite having rested players over the course of the month in preparation for the tie, a well taken free-kick by kid sensation Marcus Rashford ensured that Jose Mourinho’s side not only got an away goal but left Spain in prime position for a final place, of all the semi-final fixtures, this looks like the one that remains very open seeing that a solitary goal from Celta Vigo at Old Trafford balances the tie and puts United on the edge but Manchester United have not lost a single game at home in the Europa League, they have actually won 5 out of 6 home games in regulation time thus far in the competition and with Jose Mourinho finally accepting that the competition is the only way to the Champions league next season and anything short of that will almost mean a failure in his first season, and also with the poor way Celta Vigo played in the first leg despite having given up their La Liga aspirations for this, it is safe to assume that this tie like the three others is also done and dusted.
The Stephen Odey Transfer Madness: Now just when a lot of attention is being given to the NPFL with so much hype on talents like Stephen Odey and Sikiru Olatunbosun, a reminder of the shabby and unprofessional way of the affairs of the clubs in the league reared its head again. News broke during the week that the NPFL top goal scorer with 14 goals Stephen Odey had traveled out of the country, at first his whereabouts seemed to be unknown but after a tweet from Denmark side FC Copenhagen during a game with FC Midtylland, things become clearer on one hand but also got more confusing on another hand following counter statements from his supposedly parent club MFM FC. The Manager of the side Fidelis Ilechukwu when first contacted claimed that he was not aware of Odey’s trip to Denmark and the payer had left without authorization, the club Director of Sports Emmanuel Adeyemi in a separate interview claimed Odey was on a facility tour to familiarize himself with conditions in Denmark (I find this as ridiculous as a statement can be), whilst the players agent is supposedly angry that his player is actually playing trial games instead of a medical as supposedly agreed by both sides. Amidst this insanity, the Media officer of the side Olawale Quadry in trying to justify how the club wasn’t initially aware of the where-about of their star forward stated that the Danish side called the club’s office landline at an odd hour when nobody was in the office to receive the call, hence they could not inform them abinitio, I find this statement not only embarrassing but also laughable. There is also the unclear issue of the ownership of the player, it has been days since this saga became public and there is still no coordinated response or official statement from the club, all we have gotten have been individual statements contradicting each other and making a mess of an already badly managed situation. This is no way to run a professional team and whilst many arguments may be made as to the player trying to secure his future now that he is getting all the buzz, things when not done properly always backfire. The player has just gotten a call up to the National Team, he may well be the next big thing in the league but like we have witnessed time and over again, if the little details as regards his management and direction are not sorted, he may well end up forgotten without actualizing his full potentials.