Amazing matches highlight epic Champions League season

Tottenham's Lucas Moura scores their third goal to complete his hat trick. (Reuters )
Updated 09 May 2019
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Amazing matches highlight epic Champions League season

  • The all-English final is a fitting way for Spurs and Reds to emerge from dramatic knockout phase

GENEVA: Remarkably and improbably, it will be Liverpool and Tottenham playing for the Champions League title on June 1.

The all-English final in Madrid seemed all but impossible before back-to-back, second-half comebacks in both semifinals.

It was a fitting way for the finalists to emerge from a dramatic knockout phase.

Here’s a look at some of the best games from this season’s Champions League:

Real Madrid-Ajax

Consecutive defending champion Real Madrid was a huge favorite to reach the quarterfinals after beating Ajax 2-1 in the first leg in Amsterdam. But a young, vibrant Ajax team ended Madrid’s reign in a 4-1 rout that set the tone for the rest of the competition — no storied club was safe, not even on home turf.

Madrid’s humiliation was highlighted by how captain Sergio Ramos came to miss the second leg.

Ramos committed a 90th-minute foul in Amsterdam to intentionally get a yellow card. He had calculated that a suspension from the return match was worth clearing his disciplinary record for the matches to come.

Paris Saint-Germain-Manchester United

One day later, video review (VAR) helped Manchester United pull off another comeback win.

United, revitalized by interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after grim times under Jose Mourinho, faced Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 trailing by two goals and with Paul Pogba suspended.

A pair of first-half goals from Romelu Lukaku gave United hope, and the 3-1 victory was secured by a stoppage-time penalty from Marcus Rashford.

But the drama came from how the penalty was awarded, using technology UEFA had only weeks earlier decided to include.

Diogo Dalot’s long-range shot seemed to be heading high over the goal until the ball hit the arm of PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe.

The penalty was given after a lengthy review.

Manchester City-Tottenham

Another game ultimately decided by video review — overturning what even Tottenham thought was a stoppage-time goal by Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling — came in the quarterfinals.

There were three lead changes early in the match and a Champions League record five goals in the first 21 minutes.

Man City were set to advance when Sergio Aguero made it 4-2 in the 59th minute, but Tottenham regained control in the 73rd when Fernando Llorente scored with his hip to make it 4-3. That goal stood after a review for possible handball.

The stadium later erupted, with City manager Pep Guardiola galloping down the touchline in ecstatic leaps, when Sterling scored after a misplaced pass by Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen sent Aguero clear.

Unnoticed at first, Eriksen’s pass had glanced off a City player’s leg. Aguero was offside, the goal was disallowed, and Tottenham was reprieved.

Liverpool-Barcelona

To reach the final, Liverpool had to overturn a three-goal deficit against a Barcelona team led by Lionel Messi.

And they had to do it without two of their top forwards, injured teammates Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. But if it was going to happen anywhere, it would be under the floodlights on a European soccer night at Anfield.

Stand-in striker Divock Origi scored early, and halftime substitute Georginio Wijnaldum quickly added two more to make it 3-3 on aggregate.

Barcelona eventually was eliminated when 20-year-old Liverpool fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold tricked a sleeping defense. His quick pass from a corner found Origi for the winning goal.

Ajax-Tottenham

In a competition where big leads have had a habit of disappearing, Tottenham pulled of the final trick with almost the final kick.

Ajax won in London 1-0 in the first leg and scored two more in the first half on Wednesday.

Then came Lucas Moura, who might not even have played if Tottenham striker Harry Kane hadn’t been injured. The Brazil forward scored in the 55th and 59th minutes to spark the revival.

Incredibly, euphorically, Moura scored again in the sixth minute of stoppage time, giving his team an astonishing 3-2 win and leaving Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on his knees and in tears on the field.


Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

Updated 23 May 2019
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Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

  • ‘I have an obligation to speak against atrocities,’ basketball star tells Arab News
  • ‘Whatever I am going through in my personal life doesn’t impact my performance on court’

CHICAGO: NBA superstar Enes Kanter says he loves his homeland Turkey as much as he loves professional basketball. 

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erdogan has arrested Kanter’s father, and bullied his family after accusing the basketball player of being part of the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the president asserts was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Two years ago this week, Erdogan demanded that Kanter be arrested, and fears of violence from the Turkish state have gotten so bad that the FBI installed a panic button to help protect the player.

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression.

“His (Erdogan’s) regime’s and his hostility to me began in 2013 when I first start criticizing (the) government on unjust, unfair and illegal closures of college preparatory centers linked to businesspeople in the Hizmet movement,” Kanter said.

 “This closure pretty much became the first public clash between the Erdogan regime and the Hizmet movement,” he added.

“It was obvious that there was something that Erdogan doesn’t like about the Hizmet movement. Up until the closures of college preparatory centers, no one knew about that,” Kanter said.

“The way Erdogan handled this relationship was brutal, ruthless, unjust and unfair. I can’t stand for any of these, so I stood up against this tyranny and started criticizing. Neither Erdogan stopped his approach nor I, and we’ve kept clashing since then.”

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression. (AFP)

Kanter played for the Turkish national team at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and for the Turkish U18 national team in 2009.

He led Turkey to the bronze medal at the European Championships in France, and was named Best Player and Best Center at the 2009 European Championships by Eurobasket.com. 

Kanter signed with the Utah Jazz in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the New York Knicks in 2017, and the Portland Trail Blazers in February this year.

The Trail Blazers lost the Western Division Playoffs, the first step to the NBA Championships, to California’s Golden State Warriors in the final game on Monday.

Erdogan’s threats have placed enormous pressure on Kanter, but he insists it has not impacted his performance or his commitment to help the people of Turkey.

“I’m a successful professional athlete, and whatever I’m going through in my private life would never impact my performance on court,” he said.

“They’re two different worlds for me … I’ve known nothing else but basketball … since I was 13, so I guess it’s pretty important,” he added.

“I see basketball and my platform as a way to teach the younger generation how to be successful and hopeful for the future,” Kanter said.

“Once you’re a successful professional athlete, younger generations see you as a role model, so … I’m trying to do my best to set my life as a role model to them,” he added.

“I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities. I believe that as a human being I should be standing for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech … Me being a celebrity makes it easier for people to hear, see and experience what I believe.”

I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities.

Enes Kanter, Portland Trail Blazers center

On Erdogan, Kanter does not mince words. “He’s a dictator by definition. He silences media, destroys opposition, demonizes his critics … so all these make him a dictator,” Kanter said.

“Turkey deserves a leader who’s open minded, democratic, progressive, intelligent, modest and forward thinking, a leader who embraces everybody in the community regardless of their political choices.”

The harassment from Erdogan has put Kanter’s family at risk too. “I can’t say they’re safe when my dad lost his job and got jailed based on terrorism charges because I’m his son,” Kanter said. “These allegations are baseless and ridiculous, so how could I feel they’re safe?”

He said he respects Gulen and the Hizmet movement, rejecting Erdogan’s claims against them.

“I’m so close to Mr. Fethullah Gulen in terms of his life philosophy and teachings. I admire his way of extracting an individual’s inner potential … in order to be a better person in his or her community,” Kanter said.

“Erdogan should know that he’ll be brought to justice one day and pay for his mistakes. First, he should stop all his unjust, inhumane acts against the people of Turkey. Second, he should start making everybody’s life better in Turkey.”

Before moving to the US in 2009 to attend college in California, Kanter was a star basketball player in Turkey’s premier leagues.

He said despite playing for the NBA in the US, he still sees himself as a champion for Turkey and its people.

“I was Turkey’s best basketball player, and I’m still Turkey’s best basketball player. The only difference is that I’m now representing my country in the US. I left Turkey for a better opportunity in my career, to play in the NBA,” he added.

“I think everyone in society has an obligation to speak out on issues of human rights and democracy, and to stand tall against atrocities, inhumane practices and dictatorships,” Kanter said.

Celebrities like himself “have a bigger opportunity to make a difference and to raise awareness on such issues because of our platforms,” he added.

Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. (AFP)