By Yemi Babalola Lagos, Nigeria.
The league of champions which delight football fans, kicked off its round of 16 fixtures on February 14, a day significant to lovers in major parts of the globe. The day was one filled with surprise as well as the usual footballing antics. This stage usually characterized as where the boys are separated from the men, which has been a pitfall for teams like Arsenal who for over 10 years have not progressed beyond this stage.
Matches took off with the fixtures of the night where Portuguese side Benfica hosted their German counterpart Borussia Dortmund to the Estadio da Luz. The match entertained viewers as Konstantinos Mitroglou put the host ahead in the 48th minute of the match. At exactly 10 minutes after the goal Dortmund could have equalized but Pierre Emerick Aubameyang lost his team’s crucial penalty and that was the end of the story in Portugal where Benfica won by a goal to nil (1-0) against Borussia Dortmund.
Exactly at the same kick-off time on the same day, at the Parc des Princes, Paris Saint Germain (PSG) welcomed Barcelona and it was a night to forget for the Spanish big guns as they were defeated four goals to nil (4-0) by the host, courtesy of goals scored by former Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria who scored a brace on the night, as well as Julian Draxler and Edison Cavani who capped up the night for PSG.
The next day, February 15 was another thrilling day for football lovers, but one of continuous misery for Arsenal football team and their fans, as they were whooped five goals to one (5-1) at the Allianz Arena in Germany by home team Bayern Munich. The night was one where most football faithful’s expected to see a different Arsenal side who for once would stand up to be counted considering they have been making this competition mostly all through the Arsene Wenger era of the club. Sadly that was not to be seen, though as of half time, the match was one all (1-1) apiece courtesy of Arjen Robben’s opener and Alexis Sanchez equalizer after his missed penalty. Coming into the second half one would have assumed the Gunners would hold firm but goals from Robert Lewandowski, a brace from Thiago Alcantara and Thomas Mueller sealed the victory of Bayern over their familiar foe Arsenal.
While, on the same night at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Spain, Real Madrid hosted SSC Napoli of Italy. The match was quiet lively as Napoli took the early lead through a Lorenzo Insigne 8th minute goal. But Karim Benzema opened scoring for the Blancos, before Toni Kroos and Casemiro sealed the win for Madrid. This saw Real Madrid winning the match by three goals to one (3-1). One synonymous fact of the first four matches of the round of sixteen was that all the home teams (Benfica, Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid) won their matches.
A week after the first four matches, on February 21, the second batch of round of sixteen matches kicked off as Bayer Leverkusen welcomed last season’s finalist Atletico Madrid to the Bay Arena in Germany. Atletico took the early lead on the night through Saul Niguez’s goal in the 17th minute, and Antoine Griezmann’s 25th minute goal and in fact dominated all through the 90 minutes. Bayer tried to come back in the 48 minute when Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for them but Kevin Gameiro’s penalty kick in the 59th minute killed that dream. Though Stefan Savic 68th minute home goal should have given them the confidence to do more but Fernando Torres sealed the fate of the home team with his 86th minute goal, which wrapped up the night. Bayer Leverkusen lost by two goals to four (2-4) at home to Atletico Madrid.
On the same night, Manchester City hosted Monaco at the Etihad stadium and the host took the lead, when Raheem sterling scored the first goal of the night in the 26th minute of the match, but Radamel Falcao equalized for the visitors and youngster Kylian Mbappe Lottin put Monaco in front in the 40th minute of the match and it looked like another disappointing night for English football but the tide turned when Falcao lost a crucial penalty in the 50th minute of the match and in the 58th minute Sergio Aguero put the score line equal once again. The resilient Monaco side came back through a Radamel Falcao goal in the 61st minute but the home team kept up the pressure and were rewarded as Sergio Aguero in the 71st minute equalized for the host once more, and John Stones in the 77th minute put the host in front, while Leroy sane sealed the win for City in the 82nd minute. The match ended 5-3 in favor of Manchester City.
FC Porto and Juventus on February 22 kicked off the final set of matches in the first leg of the round of 16 matches. Porto welcomed The Old Lady to the Estadio do Dragao in Portugal. The match was lively among both sides until Alex Telles of Porto picked up a red card in the 27th minute after picking up his second card of the night. This led to the change of pace of the match, but it took 72 minutes before Juventus could take the lead via a Marko Pjaca goal and
Daniel Alves doubled their lead two minutes after. The match ended 0-2 in favor of the visiting Italian side.
Sevilla on the same day, hosted English champions Leicester City in Spain, Sevilla dominated the match largely and could have taken an early lead but Joaquin Correa missed a penalty in the 14th minute, but Pablo Sarabia put the host ahead in the 25th minute and Joaquin Correa redeemed himself in the 62nd minute with a goal. But Leicester did not give up as they put in pressure and it yielded in the 73rd minute when Jamie Vardy scored a crucial away goal for the English champions. The match ended 2-1 in favor of the host team.
The second leg and reverse fixtures would be played between, March 7 -15, 2017. It is worth noting that teams like PSG and Bayern have made their qualification into the final 8 easier with the result of the first leg they played. Likewise, teams like Leicester City, FC Porto and Dortmund cannot be written off despite the results of their first leg matches. But teams like Arsenal and Barcelona, clearly need a miracle to see them progress into the final 8 of the UEFA Champions league.