Toby Alderweireld went from “hell to heaven” as Tottenham snatched a Champions League semi-final place on a night of VAR drama at Manchester City.
Spurs thought their hopes of reaching the last four had been dashed at the last moment when Raheem Sterling struck deep into injury time of a pulsating quarter-final at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
But the goal was disallowed following a VAR review and Spurs, despite still trailing 4-3 on the night, prevailed courtesy of the away goals rule in a 4-4 aggregate draw.
“It was from hell to heaven,” said Spurs defender Alderweireld. “I was thinking we can’t concede in that moment, we knew what we had thrown (away).
“I think we were a little bit angry in that moment but then we saw the ref going back saying, ‘Offside’.
“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it on the pitch. For the neutral fans it was an unbelievable night.”
The drama and VAR interventions were not just restricted to the closing moments in what was a classic encounter.
Sterling opening the scoring inside four minutes but Spurs were leading by the 10th minute courtesy of a quickfire Son Heung-min double. City equalised through Bernardo Silva a minute later and were leading again after 21 minutes as Sterling scored his second.
Sergio Aguero put City in command of the tie after the break but Fernando Llorente bundled in another Spurs goal after 73 minutes, awarded only after a lengthy VAR check for suspected handball.
Sterling thought he had settled the affair in the most dramatic fashion but City’s jubilation quickly turned sour and Tottenham were left to celebrate a first European Cup semi-final appearance since 1962.
“It is a historical day for Spurs,” said Alderweireld, 30, who came through the Academy ranks at semi-final opponents Ajax. “The mentality of the team, even after going behind, was unbelievable.
“To go through against the team of the moment in City was unbelievable for us. I think we can be proud of ourselves.”
On returning to Amsterdam, Alderweireld said: “I think (it’s like) going back home. I had a wonderful time there.
“It is an unbelievable semi-final for us and we know it is a top team to beat.”
Bernardo Silva put on a brave face and tried to switch focus back to the title race following Manchester City’s Champions League heartache.
City saw their hopes of conquering Europe and winning an unprecedented quadruple this season end in a dramatic quarter-final clash against Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
City thought they had snatched a 5-3 victory, which would have taken them through 5-4 on aggregate, through Raheem Sterling in injury time but his strike was ruled out by VAR.
Instead Spurs went through to a last-four clash with Ajax, despite a 4-3 loss on the night, courtesy of the away goals rule in a 4-4 aggregate draw.
“We are very disappointed,” said Silva, one of City’s scorers in a sensational game that opened with five goals inside a pulsating first 21 minutes.
“Obviously we wanted to qualify for the semi-finals. We’re disappointed with the result and the way we conceded the goals but I think the way the team played was very good. It was fantastic, especially after (being) 2-1 behind.
“It’s not a very good feeling to have but that’s football. Now we have to focus on the Premier League and FA Cup. We will have to forget about it and go for the competitions we are still in.”
City, beaten 1-0 in the first leg, levelled the tie when Sterling struck after four minutes but Spurs roared back with Son Heung-min scoring twice in quick succession. Silva then equalised and Sterling put City back in front in a frantic opening.
Sergio Aguero put City in command of the tie after the break but Fernando Llorente swung it back in Spurs’ favour when bundled in another goal from a corner after 73 minutes.
There was debate over whether the ball had hit Llorente’s arm before bouncing in off his hip but the Spaniard was given the benefit of the doubt after a lengthy VAR check.
VAR then came to Spurs’ rescue again in injury time after Sterling thought he had completed his hat-trick in the most dramatic fashion, ruling Aguero offside in the build-up.
Silva said: “I think VAR is a good thing because it helps the referee make better decisions, so no problems with the VAR.
“Obviously I have had the opportunity to watch the last goal from Tottenham and the ball hits the hand, no doubt about that, but the referee takes his decision and we have to respect that.”
This could still be a memorable season for City. They have already won the Carabao Cup and are through to the FA Cup final.
They will retain their Premier League title if they win their remaining five games, starting with another visit from Spurs on Saturday.
Silva said: “It’s not time for revenge, it’s time for another competition, time to keep us alive in the title race.
“We will try to win the game in the same way we did on Wednesday but knowing that we are playing against a very good team and that will make it difficult for us.”
Jurgen Klopp declared Liverpool have made a “big statement” by reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second year in a row.
Three goals in the final half an hour saw Liverpool triumph 4-1 in Porto to seal a 6-1 aggregate win in their quarter-final and set up a last-four meeting with Barcelona.
“For us to be in the semi-finals is unbelievable really, the second time in a row in the semi-finals is something really crazy,” Klopp said.
Barcelona and Lionel Messi now await, and Klopp could not hide his grin as he looked forward to pitting his wits against the Catalan giants – even if he must first focus on Sunday’s Premier League game against Cardiff as Liverpool continue to push on two fronts.
“Now we are in the semi-final against Barcelona, I’m really happy that we play them,” he said.
“We will find things that we think we can use against them, but I’m not worrying about that tonight.
“Tonight we are in the semi-final but on Sunday we are playing Cardiff. That’s in my mind and will be on my mind 100 per cent when I wake up.
“I’m looking forward to it but not tonight. The news that there’s a proper football game between Liverpool and Barcelona is really good news and I’m happy for all the people in the football club.
“To be in the semi-final is a big statement. I’m really proud of the boys and what they did.”
Porto played on the front foot for most of the night but struggled to turn chances into goals, and the tie was effectively over when Sadio Mane prodded home Liverpool’s first chance of the night in the 28th minute.
Mohamed Salah doubled the lead in the 65th minute and though Eder Militao headed in for the hosts, further goals from Roberto Firminho and Virgil Van Dijk made for a comfortable Liverpool win.
“We had to defend in the first half a lot, but OK, that’s no problem, that’s something that we have to do,” Klopp said.
“The big difference is that it doesn’t cost us confidence. We are under pressure but no problem because we know we will get chances and when we did we scored them.”
Klopp admitted the final scoreline flattered his team, even if they rarely looked like having a problem on the night.
“It’s not a result that reflects the two games,” he said. “At Anfield we were the clear better side, we dominated the game and played a really good game and made life difficult for Porto.
“Tonight it was the other way around, they made our life difficult.”
Provided by Press Association Sport