Weston McKennie’s Gonna Be Thinking About This Nutmeg For A Long Time
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One day after the 10-year anniversary of Robin van Persie’s most ignominious moment as a footballer, Porto’s Mehdi Taremi was a victim of the exact same call. Once again, keeper Wojciech Szczesny witnessed the unthinkable in a game he started, and once again his team lost a game it looked certain to win. Only this time he could blame an American, not a shocking officiating decision.
Despite an incredible red card for Taremi, Porto managed to advance past Juventus on away goals after an enthralling — if not exasperating — 210 minutes in the Champions League Round of 16. Juventus won 3-2 on Tuesday in Turin, including 2-1 in regulation, but the visitors moved on to the quarterfinals with a 4-4 aggregate score, because away goals count in extra time for some reason.
After winning the first leg 2-1, the Dragons took a 1-0 lead on Tuesday through a penalty from Sérgio Oliveira and things looked pretty peachy for Porto.
The second half, however, was a nightmare for the Portuguese side. Federico Chiesa equalized, Taremi was sent off and the wheels briefly fell off.
It was reminiscent of the unforgettable Barcelona-Arsenal Round of 16 match that celebrated its 10th anniversary on Monday. The Gunners won the first leg in the 2-1 and led 3-2 on aggregate early in the second half of the second leg. Then van Persie took a shot after the whistle blew. The referee gave him a second yellow card and Barça went on to win the match 3-1 to advance 4-3 on aggregate.
On this day in 2011, Robin van Persie received this controversial red card against Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/S5PLxsOOZ8— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) March 8, 2021
Szczesny started that match for Arsenal, though he left injured in the 19th minute. History repeated itself on Tuesday, kind of.
Taremi was shown a yellow for a bad foul in the 52nd minute on Aaron Ramsey, another former Gunner, though he was injured for that Barcelona game. Two minutes later Taremi kicked the ball away in anger after the referee’s whistle, prompting a second yellow and putting his team down to 10 men. It wasn’t long after the whistle, but he was clearly trying to waste time.
Mehdi Taremi Red Card
PORTO DOWN TO 10 pic.twitter.com/b9bj9XjbZl
Unlike van Persie, Taremi can’t claim he couldn’t hear the whistle, though that didn’t stop him from trying. Playing in an empty stadium the Iranian would have to be legally deaf to not have heard the whistle. Plus, he was just kicking the ball away, not taking a shot like RvP (who probably knew the whistle had gone as well). Still, it was a harsh call that usually sees leniency.
For most of the second half, it looked like this match would be identical to the Barça-Arsenal game 10 years ago. Juventus evened the aggregate at 3-3 through Chiesa in the 63rd minute, and it seemed a matter of time for the Bianconeri to win the match. Juan Cuadrado nearly did, but his effort struck the post and the teams went to extra time. (Full Juventus vs Porto highlights found below.)
JUAN CUADRADO. JUVE. AGAIN. ALMOST. pic.twitter.com/gtv3zmdFwU
Extra time turned into a farce, with almost all the players running out of gas and turning into Pepe, the Porto defender who commits egregious fouls and asks for every opposing team’s foul to be a red card. Ronaldo thought he had won a penalty when Agustín Marchesín took him out in the box, but the Porto keeper got ball first. Moments later, Federico Bernadeschi was lucky not to be sent off after going studs up on a challenge that only resulted in yellow. That 15-second bit of play resulted in about three minutes of delay, which was how most of the extra time played out.
But the match took an American twist in the 115th minute.
Weston McKennie had replaced Ramsey in the 75th minute. Playing in a more central role, McKennie was back defending when Oliveira nutmegged him, prompting the American to tug the Portuguese down for a foul to avoid further embarrassment. He probably should have let him go.
Oliveira, from 30 yards out, struck an unbelievable worm-burner to beat Szczesny and send Porto on its way to a historic win.
SÉRGIO OLIVEIRA, FOR THE WIN? pic.twitter.com/g1X5PBDGSt
Admittedly, the wall was woeful. It fell apart before the ball was struck, with players turning their heads, ducking out of the way or jumping over the shot. Maybe Szczesny could have gotten down to it, but you expect more from a wall. McKennie could only watch in horror, knowing his foul might live long in the memory like Robin van Persie's red card 10 years ago.
The additional away goal — again, why do away goals count in extra time? — meant Juventus had to score twice to avoid crashing out of the Champions League. Adrien Rabiot did pull one back for Juventus moments later, but his header was scored at home, so no one will remember it.
Porto thus joins Borussia Dortmund as the first two teams in the quarterfinals. Unless Lionel Messi can engineer another remontada against PSG, this might be the first season in 16 years in which neither Messi nor Ronaldo is in the Champions League quarterfinals.