“In a night of expectations and anxiety, FC Porto held their nerves to conquer Turin leaving Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo stunned. The spirit of Porto deserved to advance further”

 

When it is the UEFA Champions League, the world is habituated to witness the very best of Cristiano Ronaldo. No matter how tough the circumstances had been in the past, Cristiano Ronaldo always stepped up in the knockout stages to carry his team all the way to the ultimate accolade.

But since he left Real Madrid that Midas touch in the Champions League is hugely missing – especially in the knockout stages – Juventus won the match, but lost the big battle in the Round of 16 and are out of the tournament.

Juventus met FC Porto in Turin digesting defeat in the away match and each and everyone expected that the best player in the world would wave his magic once again and bail Juve out of the jail. Well, Porto had the last laugh.

The elimination in the Round of 16 for the second consecutive season would not charm anyone as the Champions League woes for Juve stretches back to 1996.

Despite losing 2-1 to Porto in the first leg, Juve had tried valiantly to avoid even thinking about another early exit.

“It’s our duty to go through to the next round,” Juve director and former midfielder Pavel Nedved had told Sky Sport Italia beforehand. Instead, Juve are out of Europe and, this time around, they won’t even have the consolation prize of a Scudetto.

The Serie A title already looks lost, for the first time in 10 years, with Inter currently 10 points ahead of the third-placed Bianconeri at the top of the table. Even a possible Coppa Italia win would not please anyone out there who feels that the Old Lady has been betrayed by Ronaldo and well, Piro and the rest!

Three years ago Juventus gambled on Cristiano Ronaldo lifting them to Champions League glory.

Agnelli, the chairman of the European Club Association, who wishes to revamp the Champions League with elite clubs meeting each other and fight for the trophy – might not be sure of what to express after the fascinating result last night in Turin.

Agnelli was made to realize that football is the game of the people and not limited to the whims of few elites.

The fighting spirit of Porto won the hearts of everyone and surely Agnelli would have a different opinion.

With one goal advantage, Porto would certainly decide to sit back and invest on the counter. Thus their line-p was 4-4-2 against Andrea Pirlo’s 3-5-2 where Alex Sandro was playing as a center-back and Chiesa joined Cuadrado in the midfield as the winger.

Porto kept things narrow and unleashed the midblock and shut down the passing lanes for Juve – 4-4-2 switched to 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 at times.

The only spaces available were behind the forward of Porto where the Juve center-backs tried to move the ball freely and break the deadlock through the wingers via bypassing the compact midfield and back investing more on the long-balls. Bonucci was the vital cog in doing such and Chiesa tried his best to exploit this because Cristiano Ronaldo was having a very bad night.

Porto’s backline was so compact and organized that they played the offside trap very well and as time progressed Juve backline stayed narrowly and shifted the ball to create spaces on the right through Cuadrado.

Arthur and Rabbiot became the pivots while the center-backs moved the ball wide – the Juve formed an attacking five upfront to pressurize Porto defence – Chiesa, Alvaro Morata, Ronaldo, Ramsey, and Cuadrado moved up and attacked.

Cuadrado was trying to exploit the half-spaces and script crosses in the center where players like Ronaldo and Morata were available, but it was not their night.

Porto noticed the effectiveness of Cuadrado and decided to form a back six – Corona and Otavio dropping in the defence and one extra-man in the wider region covered the Juve wing-back. Manafa shut down Ronaldo, Sansui checked Ramsey while all of them were led from the front by Pepe, who yet again exhibited his class at this age.

Solid at the back and effective during the transition, Porto created plenty of chances during the first half, having seven attempts on goal inside the first 25 minutes.

They led after winning a penalty in the 17th minute, Merih Demiral clumsily fouling Taremi.

Oliveira sent Szczesny the wrong way.

Juve pushed higher – Morata was twice denied by Agustín Marchesin.

The Porto wall was breached by Chiesa after the break – Bonucci suddenly shoveled a pass down the inside-left channel teeing it up for Chiesa, who curled a sensational shot across Marchesin and into the top right.

Porto made their task even harder when Taremi gave Bjorn Kuipers an opportunity to show him a second yellow card after kicking the ball away when he was already on a booking.

Chiesa soon hauled Juve level on aggregate, heading in his third goal of the tie.

Morata had a winner disallowed for offside and Juan Cuadrado cracked the crossbar at the end of normal time.

Porto’s heroic defence broke down sweat, clenched their teeth and lifted their spirit to force extra-time, and maintained their threat on the counterattack.

Time was running out and tension was mounting – McKennie was rounded by Oliveira inside the 25 yards – McKennie brought him down. Porto were awarded a free-kick. Oliveira sent a beauty, skidding towards the bottom left, and squeezed in – Porto had more advantage on the away goal.

Rabbiot scored one in the dying moments to make it 3-2, but it was Porto who were the worthy winners on goal the aggregates in a night where their determination earned the accolades.

“Cristiano Ronaldo can’t do that in a wall,” Capello fumed on Sky Sport Italia. “Whoever is in a wall should be aware that they might get hit and not be afraid of the ball. But he turned around and this is an unforgivable mistake for which there is no excuse.”

Ronaldo wasn’t the only one to be called out by Capello, with Merih Demiral having conceded the penalty that led to Porto’s first goal of the night.

“Juventus made elementary mistakes in both matches,” Capello went on. “There was some carelessness in Portugal then Demiral was naive in the penalty. That was a gift. He shouldn’t have tried to make the tackle; it was enough to stay tight.”

Capello also bashed the old guards of the team.

“You see only the youngest players actually stepped in and showed their face during the tough moments,” he said. “In this team, there are some veterans who turn up when they win to take the credit, then are nowhere to be seen when they lose.”

A night to forget for Juve and the night to cherish for Porto.

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