Guardiola jumping for joy gives the lie to European indifference
Not since 1962 have Tottenham Hotspur reached the semi-finals of the European Cup / Champions League. That goes some way to explaining the scenes of jubilation between Mauricio Pochettino, his staff and players at the end of a fantastic game of football, replete with seven goals and sprinkled with VAR controversies. It was a game for the ages, one that honoured the competition and enhanced the reputation of the two competitors. Mauricio Pochettino ended up with the winning ticket after years of building an admirable project at Spurs. And also Son Heung-min, who was spared military service after South Korea’s triumph at the Asia Cup and who will wake up on Thursday with a much happier workplace vibe than spending two years in khaki.
I believe that Guardiola was mistaken when he said he had not gone to Manchester City to win the Champions League. His leaps of joy when he thought Raheem Sterling had made it 5-3 gave the lie to his attempts to brush off the competition’s importance, which has eluded him since he parted company with Leo Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. There was an element of bet-hedging in that statement, a touch of the Fox and the Grapes. Guardiola has done an excellent job and has created an aesthetically pleasing playing model, but one plays football to win, not to free souls from purgatory. Everything Guardiola does he does with the best of intentions and he deserves applause and admiration, but what he is being paid to do is win. And in Europe, that means winning the Champions League.
Liverpool cruise after early Porto pressure
At the other end of Europe, Liverpool saw off Porto with a 4-1 win that during the first half looked unlikely to say the least. The home side bossed the visitors for long periods but could not apply the finishing touch. Moussa Marega, a player who gives defenders the slip and optimistically hit everything that came his way, nonetheless rendered his side’s good football toothless. When Liverpool scored and half time was approaching, Porto gave up the cause as lost. Jürgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah’s side will go on to face Barcelona in the next round, with the first leg at Camp Nou and the return at Anfield. It will be an excellent semi-final, as will Ajax-Tottenham. The Champions League rolls on, without Cristiano Ronaldo or Pep Guardiola, but with plenty to sink our teeth into.