This has arguably been the most entertaining Champions League campaign in recent memory. As a result, it has also seen of the most shambolic defending by Europe’s top teams.
Liverpool vs Roma in the semi-finals was a tie you just couldn’t take your eyes off. It ended 7-6 to The Reds in the end, after a first leg that saw them leading 5-0 at one point. Roma pulled two back to take to the second leg last night. Liverpool were once again in the driver’s seat in the Italian capital, leading 2-1 at the break. Roma equalized early in the second period, but were unable to capitalize on their momentum, until late on, when Radja Nainggolan bagged a quickfire brace to make it 4-2. The second of those came in the 94th minute, and there was simply not enough time for them to score another to take the tie to extra-time.
The most telling incident in the second-half though, came in the 63rd minute. With the score at 2-2, Roma were very much on the front foot and were looking threatening. A goal here would set up a grandstand finish, and the defensively-vulnerable Liverpool were already looking nervous. At this moment, Stephane El-Sharaawy volleyed goalwards at the back post, and the ball was deflected behind for a corner. Right-back Alexander-Arnold had dived in, and it looked like the ball had cannoned behind off his chest. The replays though, showed a different story. Even though none of the Roma players or fans had appealed, it was a clear handball. It was quite startling that neither El-Sharaawy nor any of the players around him even so much as put a hand up in appeal, and accepted the verdict without question.
Had the officials spotted this infringement, it would have not only resulted in a penalty for Roma, but also a direct red card. If the home side could have both reduced the deficit and been a man up with almost half an hour to play, the story could have been very different.
There is no doubt that Liverpool have been good value for their final qualification. No team has scored more than the 40 that The Reds have notched up, and the mesmerizing brilliance of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane up front has been a sight to behold.
However, there is no taking away the luck that they had in the second leg. A slice of good fortune is always required in times like these, but Roma will feel hard done by by the apparent injustice at such a crucial point in the match.
This also brings in the argument for the introduction of the video-assisted referee (VAR) in the competition. The system will be in play in the upcoming World Cup in Russia, and successful showing could see it adopted by both the national leagues, and the Champions League in the near future.
As it stands though, Liverpool have a very special night to look forward to in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on the 27th of May, as they look to stop Real Madrid from winning the title for the third successive season.