I was going to start on an emotional note by lashing Jose Mourinho for starting Gonzalo Higuain on Tuesday night instead of Karim Benzema. In the end, two late goals from Benzema and Sergio Ramos gave majority watching in the Bernabeu and elsewhere a false hope of an unlikely qualification ticket.
In the end, Borussia Dortmund held on to qualify for this season’s UEFA Champions League final with a 4-3 aggregate win in a rather entertaining encounter whose second leg scoreline somewhat belies the true story of the match.
Real dominated on the night but Dortmund stubbornly came closest to opening the scoring when first leg chief tormentor Robert Lewandowski finally got through on goal, having been well marked prior to, only for Diego Lopez to, by the faintest graze of the ball by his glove, deflect the ball onto the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Dortmund’s case wasn’t helped by Mario Götze’s early exit due to an injury and his absence was felt for the rest of the match. Unfortunately, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp reckons the Bayern bound midfielder is a big doubt for the May 25 showdown against the Bavarians. Honest talk or mind game? Time will tell.
Either way, Bayern’s concern will be to claim Europe’s top club prize in their third final in four seasons, and their intent was made clearly as a cloudless sky with another emphatic victory over Barcelona to complete an absurd, yet thoroughly deserved 7-0 aggregate annihilation of the Catalans.
Barça was made a scapegoat of a footballing punishment they’re otherwise known to dish regularly by a deathly determined Bayern side that will not give thought to being runners-up in the Champions League a third time in four seasons; especially after losing last season’s against Chelsea, on home soil, in that manner.
So all the better for Juup Heynckes’ side if Götze will not be available for the final, just as he definitely won’t be this weekend when both teams meet in a Bundesliga match. That said, Götze’s has played for Dortmund like he always has hence, a feeling that his talent will be missed very much next season and crucially for Dortmund in the Champions League final, should he miss it.
For now however, with the league title won already and Dortmund sure bets to finish second (20 points behind Bayern), both teams could field much weakened sides in a dead rubber match, just to not hint at what to expect from either side when they meet again at the end of May.
No such luxurious option for Chelsea in the Premier League when they visit a Manchester United that will likely play a mix of fringe and first team players on Sunday, with the Blues still chasing a top four finish in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
On Thursday, Rafael Benitez’s side made it to the Europa League final with a 5-2 aggregate win over FC Basel, coming from behind to claim a 3-1 win on the night with a stellar second half performance that saw Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and David Luiz with a long range beauty get the goals for Chelsea.
Next up for them there is a familiar opponent in Portugal’s Benfica that recorded same scoreline as Chelsea at home to Fernabahce to qualify 3-2 on aggregate for the final in Amsterdam on May 15, a match that would be Chelsea’s seventh Cup final in five years.
Considering that, in the years that have been the Roman era, it leaves one wondering why the London club have had almost as many managers as the years Abramovich has owned the club, putting what success is into some weird relative context.
Such weird relative context is what Benitez finds himself in now, remaining unwanted by the club’s fans since the day in November he was appointed till the end of this season when his interim contract will expire.
And that is despite reaching the Europa League final, the last four of the FA Cup and winning five of the club’s last seven league matches; a form that led to him being named Premier League manager of the month of April, as well as seven of the last 10 in all competitions.
We will therefore see another manager leave Stamford Bridge even though that manager has, in a matter of months, performed relatively well. Unlike Roberto Di Matteo’s time however, Benitez isn’t just unwanted by the club’s Russian owner but also by the club’s fans who previously criticised Abramovich’s for making hasty decisions when it came to sacking a manager instead of exercising patience and backing a manager.
Only manager that didn’t get the hasty treatment was Jose Mourinho who left after losing a power tussle with Abramovich years ago. Old wounds however heal over time and if nuances are to be believed Abramovich could fulfill the wish of majority of Chelsea fans and bring the ‘Special One’ back to the Bridge. Time will tell.
Mourinho meantime has, with some discontent, been going on about being a ‘useless’ manager after only managing to win a league title, two Copa Del Rey titles and a Spanish Super Cup in his three seasons at the Bernabeu as well as reaching three successive Champions League semi-finals and another Copa Del Rey final.
He went further to reveal his regret at not getting Diego Lopez earlier than he did while insinuating some players (Iker Casillas perhaps one) are not exactly pleased with his training methods.
All that comes soon after he’d talked about wanting to be where he was loved following Real’s Champions League exit, saying “I know in England I am loved. I know I am loved by some clubs, especially one.” and adding he will only decide his future at the club when he meets with Real president Florentino Perez at the end of this season.
Ahead of that time, he will try to have Real Madrid put Barcelona’s league title celebrations on hold when Real Valladolid visit the Bernabeu, while Barça host Real Betis needing a win and for Real Madrid to lose in order to wrap up the La Liga title this weekend.
Elsewhere, PSG could win the Ligue Un title this weekend as well with a win at home to Valenciennes along with other results going their way. Same scenario applies for Juventus when they face Palermo in the Serie A.
Coming home, Nigeria’s last representative in continental competitions will on Sunday look to qualify for the group stage of the CAF Champions League but Enugu Rangers must at least earn a score draw at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola to do so after the first leg ended goalless in Enugu.
Egyptian giants Al Ahly need an outright win at home to Bizertin to qualify after a goalless first leg, as does Esperance of Tunisia at home to JSM Beja, while another former champion TP Mazembe have a 3-1 deficit to overcome at home to Orlando Pirates.
AC Leopards, that knocked Nigeria’s Kano Pillars out on away goals in the previous round, meanwhile made the group stage on Friday night via penalty shoot-out after losing the second leg against Algeria’s ES Setif 3-1 to leave aggregate scores tied at 4-4, having won the first leg 3-1 as well.
Finally in boxing, Wladimir Klitschko will defend four world titles against former sparring partner Francesco Pianeta on Saturday night, with the latter unbeaten in his professional career. Klitschko on his part has suffered three losses in 59 fights but has won via knockout 50 times, so Pianeta really is up against a brick here.
With that, it’s a wrap here. Today marks the 19th anniversary of Rashidi Yekini scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal at USA ’94. It sadly is also the first anniversary of his death. May he rest in peace, amen.
Wish some form of respect will be paid him in next week’s Nigeria Professional Football League matches just as the Hillsborough 96 will be remembered and Everton fans appreciated when the Merseyside derby is played at Anfield on Sunday in one of this weekend’s highlight matches, as both sides chase a Europa League spot in the Premier League.
In Italy, Inter Milan visit second placed Napoli needing a win desperately to keep hopes of finishing in a Europa League spot alive while Fiorentina host Roma with the former seeking a win to keep faint Champions League qualification hopes alive. Then there’s relegation threatened Deportivo la Coruña, unbeaten in its last six league matches, hosting third placed Atletico Madrid at the Riazor later today.
Whichever match catches your fancy though, do enjoy it along with the rest of your weekend. Cheers.