Saturday, April 13, 2024

European Football Round Up

We dropped the Champions League reports here on Counteract this week. We will do the same again and include top picks from games from the Europa League and the Europa Conference League (so if your team isn’t featured, we apologise). Let’s dive into the action. 

Champions League

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Inter Milan (agg 2-2, 3-2 penalties)

Atletico Madrid secured a dramatic victory over Inter Milan in the Champions League, propelling them into the quarter-finals. Despite trailing 2-0 on aggregate following Federico Dimarco’s opener for Inter in Spain, Atletico staged a remarkable comeback through goals from Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay, ultimately forcing extra time and penalties. Lautaro Martinez’s missed penalty proved decisive as Atletico prevailed in the shootout.

With Inter initially leading 1-0 from the first leg, Dimarco extended their advantage after half an hour, only for Griezmann to swiftly equalise for Atleti. The tension mounted until the 87th minute when Depay’s decisive strike sent the Wanda Metropolitano stadium into a frenzy.

Despite both teams missing opportunities in extra time, the deadlock remained unbroken, leading to a tense penalty shootout. Atletico gained the upper hand when Davy Klaassen missed his penalty, setting the stage for Martinez’s crucial miss, which sealed Atletico’s progression.

Reflecting on the victory, Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak acknowledged the role of luck in shootouts but emphasised the importance of securing the win. With their Champions League campaign now representing their primary hope for silverware this season, Atletico continues their pursuit of European glory.

Borussia Dortmund 2-0 PSV Eindhoven (agg 3-1)

Borussia Dortmund secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals with a tense 2-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven, completing a 3-1 aggregate win and marking their first appearance in the last eight in three years.

Jadon Sancho, on loan from Manchester United, wasted no time making an impact, slotting home a composed finish in the third minute to give Dortmund an early lead. The winger’s resurgence in form comes after a challenging spell at United, where he struggled for playing time before returning to Dortmund in January.

Despite Sancho’s opener, PSV Eindhoven rallied and created opportunities, with substitute Hirving Lozano coming close to equalising with a powerful strike that rattled the post. However, Dortmund’s defence held firm, thwarting Eindhoven’s attempts to level the score. Marco Reus nearly extended Dortmund’s lead as the game progressed, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside. With tensions rising, Eindhoven pressed forward for a lifeline, but Dortmund’s resilience prevailed.

In the match’s dying moments, Dortmund capitalised on a swift counterattack, with Reus calmly finishing to secure victory and their spot in the quarter-finals. The draw for the quarter-final stage will see Dortmund joined by Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Barcelona in the next phase of the competition.

Europa League

Liverpool 6-1 Sparta Prague (agg 11-2)

Liverpool delivered a masterclass at Anfield, securing a resounding 6-1 victory over Sparta Prague to sail into the Europa League quarter-finals with an emphatic 11-2 aggregate triumph.

Jurgen Klopp’s men, already holding a commanding 5-1 lead from the first leg, wasted no time asserting their dominance, unleashing a flurry of goals in the match’s opening stages. Darwin Nunez opened the floodgates with a clinical strike, swiftly followed by Bobby Clark’s maiden senior goal for Liverpool. Mohamed Salah and Cody Gakpo added two more quickly, leaving Sparta Prague reeling.

Despite Sparta Prague pulling one back through Velko Birmancevic before halftime, Liverpool continued their onslaught in the second half. Dominik Szoboszlai’s deflected effort and Gakpo’s second-night goal compounded Sparta Prague’s misery, sealing Liverpool’s biggest aggregate win in Europe.

Salah’s return to the starting lineup proved instrumental as he orchestrated Liverpool’s attacking prowess, providing two assists and notching his milestone 20th goal. Gakpo, benefiting from Salah’s service, showcased his finishing prowess with a brace.

As Liverpool now looks ahead to the quarter-finals, their formidable attacking trio of Salah, Nunez, and Luis Diaz, supported by a prolific team, instils confidence as they gear up to face Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-finals. With their attacking prowess in full flow, Klopp’s side will undoubtedly pose a formidable challenge to their rivals.

West Ham 5-0 Freiburg (agg 5-1)

West Ham delivered a sensational performance at the London Stadium, securing a 5-1 aggregate victory over Freiburg to advance to the Europa League quarter-finals. Mohammed Kudus stole the show with a stunning brace.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Hammers wasted no time asserting their dominance, overturning the deficit in just 32 minutes. Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen set the tone with early strikes before Aaron Cresswell extended West Ham’s lead shortly after halftime.

However, Mohammed Kudus stole the spotlight with two exquisite goals. His first solo effort showcased remarkable dribbling skills as he weaved past three defenders before calmly slotting the ball into the net. Kudus then demonstrated his long-range prowess, firing home a sensational effort from outside the box, courtesy of Bowen’s assist.

Manager David Moyes hailed Kudus’ first goal as reminiscent of the legendary dribbling wingers of the past, describing it as a “Roy of the Rovers-type goal.”

The victory propelled West Ham into the Europa League quarter-finals for the third consecutive year. It significantly boosted England’s chances of securing a fifth Champions League place in UEFA’s coefficient table.

With a commanding performance against Freiburg, West Ham showcased their European pedigree and will now eagerly await the draw for the quarter-finals as they continue their pursuit of continental glory.

Conference League

Aston Villa 4-0 Ajax (Agg 4-0)

Aston Villa put a problematic weekend behind them and secured their spot in the Europa Conference League quarter-finals in style, delivering a commanding 4-0 victory over Ajax at Villa Park, completing a resounding 4-0 aggregate triumph.

Despite an early setback with Ollie Watkins forced off due to injury, Villa quickly seized control of the tie. Watkins made a significant contribution before his departure, heading in the breakthrough goal to set Villa on course for victory. Leon Bailey extended the lead in the second half, capitalising on the momentum.

Ajax’s hopes of a comeback were dashed when Sivert Mannsverk received a red card, reducing the visitors to ten men. Villa capitalised on the numerical advantage, with Jhon Duran and Moussa Diaby adding two more goals to seal the emphatic win.

Manager Unai Emery praised his team’s disciplined performance, highlighting the significance of maintaining tactical discipline throughout the match. He expressed confidence in Duran, who seized the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the team’s success.

Despite Diego Carlos picking up a hamstring issue, Villa’s victory was a morale boost for the team, with Watkins’ injury not deemed serious. Emery remained optimistic about Watkins’ availability for the upcoming fixtures, emphasising the importance of managing his recovery.

With their European campaign back on track, Villa will shift their focus to Premier League action, facing West Ham on Sunday before a crucial showdown against Midlands rivals Wolves after the international break.