The Олимп-2 pitch in Rostov-on-Don was frozen. It was wonderfully patchy and Jose Mourinho wondered if you could even call it a field at all. His desire to have the venue changed was laughed off by a UEFA official, Mourinho claiming the official told him “the players are insured, so if something happens, no problem.”
The fight for second place in Serie A is serious business. Roma and Napoli are not fighting solely for the privilege of finishing behind Juventus, but battling to avoid a Champions League playoff qualifying spot. So bad is the history of Italian teams in the playoff rounds that Italy has, more often than not in recent years, only had two representatives in the group stages of Europe’s premier footballing tournament.
Thus, when Roma and Napoli played one another this weekend, the chance to finish in second was up for grabs.
Before Wednesday’s historic events at the Camp Nou, everyone had agreed that Barcelona would need to play a perfect match to turn the tide against Paris Saint-Germain. They would need to do unto PSG as PSG had done unto them. Sure, Barcelona could score four goals, but could they keep Edinson Cavani, Lucas Moura, Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria off the scoresheet?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a hat-trick, with two of those strikes being assisted by Christian Pulisic, and the 18-year-old American registered his first Champions League goal as Borussia Dortmund eased past Benfica and into the Champions League quarterfinals, winning 4-1 on aggregate.
Dortmund were kicking themselves after throwing away a number of great opportunities in the first leg and found themselves trailing 1-0 in the tie before today’s match. However, those frustrations were quickly forgotten when Aubameyang opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
A beautifully composed finish from 18-year-old American attacker Christian Pulisic has given Dortmund a 2-1 aggregate lead over Benfica in the Champions League round of 16. Pulisic provided the assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and almost had another with a great pass to the striker, but he’s now gotten himself on the scoresheet with a wonderful finish.
USMNT manager Bruce Arena will have been pleased with the opening weekend of MLS play: Clint Dempsey returned from his irregular heartbeat scare to go 90 minutes and score a goal, Kellyn Acosta scored for FC Dallas, Ethan Finlay did the same for Columbus, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi were strong in defense for Kansas City and with Tim Howard only just returning t
Chapecoense traveled to Venezuela to play their first-ever Copa Libertadores match, having qualified by virtue of winning South America’s secondary club competition, the Copa Sudamericana, in 2016.
Facing Zulia, the runner-up in Venezuela’s 2016 Primera Division, away and with a squad made up mostly of players on loan, players that did not board LaMia Flight 2933 and one survivor, defender Neto, Chapecoense entered the match as massive underdogs.
But Chapecoense took the lead off a clever free kick from Reinaldo, a defender on loan from Sao Paulo.
It all started so beautifully for Napoli inside a rocking Stadio San Paolo in Naples in their second leg match against Real Madrid. A mesmerizing buildup led to a really well taken goal by Dries Mertens in the 24th minute.
21-year-old Luka Zahovic, a Slovenian youth international who was nominated for the FIFA Golden Boy award in 2014, has scored a beautiful goal for Maribor in league play.
An audacious flick with the heel of his boot served as a remarkable first touch, leaving two defenders in his wake. With the keeper rushing out and his angle narrowing, Zahovic’s second touch is a deft lob on the half-volley that arches over the goalkeeper and just under the crossbar.