From brink of elimination to Champions League final
Tottenham and Liverpool will battle it out to be crowned champions of Europe in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano today. But it has been a bumpy journey to Spain’s capital with both teams coming within minutes of going out at various stages of the competition since launching their campaigns on 18 September.
From scraping through the group stage to epic semi-final comebacks, BBC Sport looks at why Spurs and Liverpool are the finalists who just would not go away.
Spurs are in their first Champions League final yet they very nearly did not get out of their group after collecting just one point from the first three matches.
“Our chances of qualifying are nearly over, it will be so difficult,” Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino said after his side conceded an 87th-minute equaliser to draw 2-2 at PSV Eindhoven in their third game on 24 October.
The result left them third in the four-team Group B, five points behind second-placed Inter Milan with three games to go, including a trip to leaders Barcelona.
At home to PSV on 6 November in their fourth game, Spurs looked down and out with 12 minutes remaining before Harry Kane helped turn his side’s fortunes around with two goals as they came from 1-0 down to win 2-1.
On the same night, Inter drew 1-1 at home to Barcelona to leave Pochettino’s side three points behind the Italians with two games to go.
In their penultimate match, Spurs were 10 minutes from going out before substitute Christian Eriksen scored a late winner against Inter to draw level on points with the three-time champions of Europe with one game to go – away at already qualified Barca.
“Barcelona are one of the best teams in Europe and they have unbelievable players. It will be such a tough game,” added Pochettino.
Tottenham needed to match or better Inter Milan’s result at home to PSV Eindhoven and, trailing to Ousmane Dembele’s early strike in the Nou Camp, had faced elimination after Mauro Icardi cancelled out PSV’s early goal.
Spurs were five minutes from exiting the competition when Lucas Moura connected with Kane’s cross to make it 1-1.
That was not the end of the drama. Tottenham were unable to celebrate at the final whistle in Catalonia as play was still going on in Inter’s match with PSV.
An agonising wait followed and, deep into injury time in Italy, PSV defender Nick Viergever had to make a last-ditch challenge to stop Icardi from finding the net. Had Inter’s Argentine striker scored, Spurs would have gone out.
“This is a massive, massive achievement for the club,” said a euphoric Pochettino after it was confirmed Spurs were through to the knockout stage.
European football expert Guillem Balague described Tottenham’s display as one of the best performances by a foreign teams in the Nou Camp “for many years”.
Liverpool also suffered a scare or two in Group C, which contained Paris St-Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade, before making the knockout stages.
Back-to-back defeats in Belgrade and Paris left Jurgen Klopp’s side stuck in third spot, two points behind second-placed PSG and three adrift of leaders Napoli, with one game to go.
Napoli were Liverpool’s final group opponents, the Reds requiring a clean-sheet win at Anfield or a victory by two clear goals to make the last 16.
Mohamed Salah’s goal and a brilliant late save by keeper Alisson to deny Arkadiusz Milik an equaliser sent Klopp’s side through at the expense of their Italian opponents.
Brazilian Alisson had joined five months earlier from Roma for a world-record fee of £66.8m, and Klopp said afterwards: “If I knew Alisson was this good I would have paid double.
“The goal Mo scored – what a goal, unbelievable – but the save Ali [Allison] made I have no words for that.”
Tottenham and Liverpool avoided Champions League heavyweights like Barcelona and Real Madrid in the last-16 draw.
Instead they were drawn against the Bundesliga’s top two – Spurs facing then leaders Borussia Dortmund and Klopp’s team paired with Bayern Munich, who like Liverpool have been crowned champions of Europe five times.
Both games were billed as tight two-legged matches, with little to choose between the teams.
In reality, the ties proved comfortable for both Spurs and Liverpool as they won 4-0 and 3-1 on aggregate respectively.
“People will say Tottenham are not going to win the Champions League but you never know,” former Tottenham winger Chris Waddle told BBC Radio 5 Live after the 1-0 second leg win in Dortmund on 5 March.
Former Manchester United manager David Moyes, also speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, added: “If Paris St-Germain, Barcelona and Man City go through, I would put them as favourites above Tottenham.
“It’s a great achievement for Tottenham to get to the quarter-finals. If the draw’s kind to them… you never know.”
Liverpool are back – Klopp
Former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson, a European Cup winner with the Reds in 1984, was in the Allianz Arena as Liverpool, held to a goalless draw at Anfield in the first leg, produced a powerful performance to beat Bayern 3-1.
“I have never been in this stadium and seen it empty so far in advance of the final whistle before, because it was clear for a long time that there was no way back for Bayern,” said Lawrenson.
“I make Manchester City favourites to win the trophy in Madrid in June, because they have got the best squad and an unbelievably driven manager, but Liverpool are not far behind.”
For the first time since 2009, four English sides found themselves in the last eight of the Champions League.
As well as Spurs and Liverpool, City and Manchester United were in the hat along with Ajax, Juventus, Porto and Barcelona.
While Liverpool were paired with Porto, the team they beat 5-0 on aggregate on their way to last season’s final, Tottenham faced a daunting tie against Pep Guardiola’s City.
The Reds breezed through to set up a mouth-watering semi-final with Barca, Roberto Firmino scoring in each leg to help his team overcome the Portuguese side 6-1 on aggregate.
Tottenham’s tie with City was anything but one-sided, the second leg proving one of the most chaotic and enthralling games the competition has witnessed.
Tottenham’s 1-0 first leg lead was wiped out after just four minutes by Raheem Sterling before two away goals in three minutes by Son Heung-min made it 3-1 to Spurs on aggregate.
City then drew level on aggregate after goals by Bernardo Silva and another from Sterling before Sergio Aguero, who had missed a penalty in the first leg, made it 4-2 to the Blues on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.
In an epic match of relentless drama, Spurs reached the semi-finals for the first time – and a meeting with Ajax – after Fernando Llorente’s goal was confirmed by the video assistant referee (VAR) 17 minutes from time.
City even thought they had won it in injury time only for Sterling’s goal to be ruled out for offside by VAR.
“It was unbelievable – the way it finished. My players are heroes to be here,” said Pochettino after Tottenham went through on the away goals rule.
“This is why we love football. It was an unbelievable game,” said a jubilant Pochettino afterwards.
Former Spurs striker Gary Lineker said his former club’s second leg with Manchester City was one of the most emotional games he had attended.
And then there were four – Liverpool versus Barcelona and Tottenham against Ajax for a coveted place in the final.
With such a monumental prize at stake both semi-finals could have turned into cagey, tactical affairs.
Instead they were dripping in drama, with both Premier League clubs defying the odds to set up an all-English Champions League final.
A late Lionel Messi masterclass at the Nou Camp had left Liverpool’s hopes of a second successive Champions League final dangling by a thread.
The Argentine scored twice in a 3-0 win and even the most optimistic Reds fan could not have held out much hope after star forwards Salah and Firmino were ruled out of the return leg through injury.
“Three-nil is not the easiest result but we we have another game [second leg] and our people will be there,” said Klopp afterwards.
In the return leg, Divock Origi gave them hope but they could not find a second goal before the break.
A turning point saw pantomime villain Luis Suarez injure Andy Robertson, leaving the Scot to be replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum. And his two goals in 122 seconds levelled the tie.
On a breathless Anfield night, Origi scored a winner which will live long in the memory, turning home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner after Barcelona switched off.
Cue scenes of pandemonium at the final whistle.
“I said to the boys ‘I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you I think we have a chance’ – they are really mentality giants. It’s unbelievable,” added a delirious Klopp.
But who would be joining Liverpool in the final?
Tottenham trailed Ajax 1-0 after the first leg in London and headed to Amsterdam for the second leg with Pochettino claiming he would “go home” and “think about doing something different” if his side were to turn it around and win the Champions League.
It went from bad to worse for Spurs – before yet another remarkable ending.
They trailed 3-0 on aggregate after 35 minutes inside the Amsterdam Arena.
Ajax fans were singing as their side, who had seen off Real Madrid and Juventus, looked set to take up the other spot in the final.
But then the game took on a different complexion in four remarkable minutes shortly after half-time, courtesy of Moura’s double.
Spurs continued to search for that all-important third but it looked like it was never coming until, with the clock showing 95 minutes, Brazil forward Moura scored with a low shot to complete the best comeback since… the previous night at Anfield.
Tottenham players are superheroes – Pochettino on ‘miracle’ comeback
Pochettino was in tears at the final whistle.
“Thank you football – this type of emotion without football is not possible,” said the Argentine after his side edged through on the away goals rule. for the second successive round.
“Thank you to everyone who has believed in us. To describe this in words is difficult.”
Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen added: “How many games have we played to get here? Twelve? In every single one of them, something crazy happened.
“In the group stages, we should not have lost that away game at Inter, we got one point after three games, the Barcelona away game… there are so many I can’t tell them all but it’s been crazy.”
Will today’s final be as epic as the journeys Spurs and Liverpool have both endured to get to Madrid?
One thing is certain. Whoever wins will have gone from the brink of elimination to champions of Europe.
• Culled from BBC Sports
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