UCL round-up: City win eight-goal thriller

Sport360 staff 22/02/2017

Three goals in 11 minutes helped Manchester City come from behind to beat Monaco 5-3 in their Champions League last 16 first leg on Tuesday.

A brace from former Manchester United striker Radamel Falcao helped Monaco into a 3-2 lead just past the hour mark.

But goals from Sergio Aguero, who also scored twice, John Stones and Leroy Sane saw City storm back to ease the pressure on manager Pep Guardiola.

Atletico Madrid closed in on a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday after winning 4-2 away to Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann scored to put the Spanish side two goals up at the interval, but Leverkusen pulled one back through Karim Bellarabi at the start of the second half.

A Kevin Gameiro penalty then restored Atletico’s two-goal advantage, and while a Stefan Savic own goal gave Leverkusen hope again, Fernando Torres came off the bench to make it 4-2 late on.

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Casillas and Buffon's era-defining rivalry

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The sporting world sat back in awe last month, events at the Australian Open catching the attention of even the most casual of tennis fans. Rodger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Venus and Serena Williams all reached the finals of the tournament, rolling back the years and giving themselves a chance to add to their incredible collections of Grand Slam titles.

Much to the delight of watching fans, the Swiss master and the younger of the two American sisters lifted the respective trophies and in doing so once again defeated their closest rival for the title of greatest player of their generation.

When Wednesday evening’s Champions League clash between FC Porto and Juventus gets underway, two genuine greats of a different game will go head-to- head yet again at the Estádio do Dragão.

Debate has raged for well over a decade about whether Iker Casillas or Gigi Buffon can claim to be the best of the best, and over the years the legendary goalkeepers have faced off against each other almost as often as their tennis counterparts.

As a result their careers are inextricably linked, with the two clearly aware of the connection they share. “When Buffon retires, I will too,” Casillas told La Gazzetta dello Sport back in June, a  statement that hinted not only at the bond they have built between them but also acknowledging that for both men, the end is drawing close.

The Italian was the first to break through, catapulted into the spotlight when he was thrown into action at the age of just 17 for Parma, his 1995 debut seeing him keep a clean sheet against the all-conquering AC Milan at San Siro. Six years later he would join Juventus for a fee that remains the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper, yet even that looks like a bargain given the longevity and sheer brilliance he has displayed ever since.

Casillas also exploded onto the scene as a teenager for Real Madrid, becoming the youngest starting goalkeeper ever to win the Champions League as a 19-year- old in the 1999-00 campaign.

He would clinch a second triumph in the same competition two seasons later, and just 12 months after that the Spanish youngster would face off against Buffon in a big match for the very first time.

Having dispatched Barcelona in the quarter-finals, Juventus were drawn against Real Madrid in the last four of the 2002-03 Champions League and it would provide both goalkeepers a chance to prove their worth. A free kick from Zinedine Zidane – who just a few months earlier had left the Turin giants for the Spanish capital – drew the first great save, Buffon denying the former Juve idol with a brilliant one-handed stop.

A number of routine saves would follow as the visitors left the Bernabeu trailing 2-1, but Casillas needed to be at his best early in the second leg to deny Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved.

Juve eventually took the lead, only to then concede a penalty. Determined to progress, Buffon denied Luis Figo with a brilliant diving effort, before Nedved promptly bagging a winner – darting over the running track to celebrate under the jubilant Curva Sud.

While the two clubs were drawn together in earlier stages of the competition over the following years, the next time they faced off in a showpiece clash it was Casillas who stood tallest. The Euro 2008 quarter-final pitted Italy against Spain and, despite Buffon keeping out Daniel Güiza’s spot-kick in the shootout, his opposite number denied both Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale to eliminate the Azzurri.

That win would spark a golden era for Spain, who won that competition and then the World Cup two years later before setting up a rematch against Italy in the final of Euro 2012. This time La Furia Roja did not need penalties, sweeping their opponents aside in a comprehensive 4-0 victory.

Three years later, another Champions League semi-final saw another victory for Buffon, and by the time their national teams next went head-to- head, Casillas was no longer involved.

A 2-0 Azzurri win at Euro 2016 came with David De Gea in goal and with his predecessor now representing Porto at club level, their latest meeting will have a very strange air. They have still enjoyed fine campaigns until this point, a 35-year- old Casillas performing much better in his second season at the Dragão than he did last term, while Buffon continues to deliver miracles for Juventus even after his 39th birthday.

A meeting between them in 2017 seemed highly unlikely but football, like tennis, retains the capacity to surprise even the most hardened of fans. When Casillas and Gigi Buffon share their customary embrace either before kick off or shortly after the final whistle, it will be difficult not to smile as two of the greatest ever write another chapter in history of the game together.

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UCL fans' top-five: Thiago, PSG stars occupy top spots

Sport360 staff 16/02/2017
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After each Champions League week, Sport360 brings you the best five players from the UEFA Champions League, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.

YOU have direct influence on who appears in each top-five, so be sure to rate each weekend.

What do you make of this week’s ratings?

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

THIAGO ALCANTARA (BAYERN MUNCHEN) – 8.2

A ruthless first-leg performance at home from Bayern came courtesy of Thiago Alcantara, who put on an excellent display in midfield.

His passes were both productive and penetrative, while two goals and an assist for Thomas Mueller, who badly needed a goal, summed up a perfect outing for Thiago.

He might have been a bit lucky with the second goal, but overall led the charge for his team and made his manager one happy man.

ANGEL DI MARIA (PARIS SAINT GERMAIN) – 7.8

Let’s call it perfect birthday celebrations, Angel Di Maria certainly couldn’t have dreamt of a better night, that too against a full-strength Barcelona side.

An accurate free-kick to open the scoring for PSG and then a curling finish in the second half, beating Andre ter Stegen saw a man of the match display from Di Maria.

Some way to celebrate your 29th birthday!

MARCO VERRATTI (PARIS SAINT GERMAIN) – 7.7

With Andres Iniesta on the pitch, many would not have expected Verratti to outshine the Spaniard. But PSG’s 4-0 routing of Barcelona was orchestrated by Verratti who was decisive throughout his time of the field.

Chances created, assists, tackles, passing accuracy; Verratti ran the show on the night.

Whether it was shielding the ball when in possession or stealing it from a fellow opponent, Verratti was top-notch. His role was instrumental in PSG thrashing Barcelona.

ADRIEN RABIOT (PARIS SAINT GERMAIN) – 7.6

Against Barcelona, was a night PSG’s game plan was executed to perfection and among the many characters that made it possible for them was Adrien Rabiot.

Passing, making runs and winning the ball for the team, Rabiot made it even tougher for Barcelona.

Whether in the final third or his own half, Rabiot made some fabulous moves that resulted in either his team looking dangerous, or his team retaining possession.

JULIAN DRAXLER (PARIS SAINT GERMAIN) 7.5

Scored a goal and generally looked lethal in attack, Julian Draxler was also superb for his side.

He caused Sergi Roberto plenty of headache throughout the game and the kind of finish he produced for his goal spoke volumes of his ability.

All in all, Draxler too came to the party, which turned out to be quite a heavy one for him and his team-mates.

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