It was a night that started with Juventus players singing along to the club anthem, but ended with Porto’s players dancing around an empty Juventus Stadium, doing their best to make up for the absence of fans. In what was rather unexpected, Porto have become the second team to knock Juventus out of the Champions League last 16 in as many years – both on away goals.
Porto See off Juventus in the Champions League
A Champions League Night to Remember for Porto
When the draw for the first knockout round of the Champions League was made in December, this looked like the simplest of ties to call. Porto were going up against Juventus, and despite the Italian side’s recent European mishaps, they were still expected to progress.
Yet, Sergio Conceicao’s side put in a near-flawless performance in the first leg, and a 2-1 win at home flattered Juventus. But they still were not the favourites to go through as they headed to Turin. They took the lead at the Juventus Stadium thanks to a Sergio Oliveira penalty but were pegged back just after half-time. The visitors were then reduced to ten-men with half an hour to go, with all the signs pointing one way.
Yet, the Portuguese side braved the storm, and despite being on the back foot for most of extra-time, they found the all-important goal to take them through. A 3-2 loss on the night was ultimately inconsequential, as Porto found their way to a third quarter-final appearance in seven years.
Porto’s Win a Reminder of What Champions League Football is About
It felt karmic that Porto’s elimination of Juventus came when Juve chairman Andrea Agnelli was making headlines. Agnelli was in the news for his proposed ‘Swiss system’ format for the Champions League. He also suggested a proposal was in place to make sure clubs in the potential ’36-team Champions League’ only sign players from teams outside the competition.
It was a reminder of what the Champions League was about. A competition that despite seemingly constant efforts to gate-keep it for the big powerful clubs, memorable nights like this can still occur. Nights like Porto beating Juventus, like Ajax beating Real Madrid (and Juventus), and APOEL knocking out Lyon on penalties in 2012, are the nights the Champions League was built on.
Those are also the kinds of nights the likes of Agnelli and the other powerful clubs are intending to prevent. The Champions League has, over the years, become something of a rich-kids table. It was no more evident than last season when only the teams from Europe’s top five leagues made the round of 16.
Future of Juventus and the Competition
Juventus losing to Lyon at this stage last season was exactly what cost Maurizio Sarri his job. And, defeat to Porto might well edge Andrea Pirlo to the exit door, especially with the Serie A title slipping away. The signs are pointing to a Juventus dynasty being over. Perhaps that is what Agnelli should focus on at the moment.
The Champions League is a competition in need of a revamp, but not for the reasons Agnelli thinks. Rather, we will get one in which the little guys are getting shafted. A European Super League in everything but name. At least for now, we have to make do with nights like this.