The biggest football match in the world takes place this Saturday. A day later, Rafael Nadal will most likely have a world record to himself. Chris Gayle already has one this week to his name. As does Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid.
This past week felt like a month in terms of the sheer amount of things that have happened. And the coming week will be no less.
Real Madrid reached their record seventh consecutive Champions League semifinal, defeating German giants Bayern Munich 4-2 at the Bernabeu in the return leg of their quarterfinal, and winning the tie 6-3 on aggregate. Yet, it wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th Champions League goal and his hattrick that made the news. It’s always sad for the game when the referee does. Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai, one of the best in the game till Tuesday night, condemned Bayern to defeat – by first giving Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal his second yellow and sending him off the pitch with ten minutes to play. Bayern were 2-1 up heading into the final stretch, and looked good to score again before they were down to 10 men – again, after the first leg. Yet they held on, and the tie went to Extra Time at 3-3. All hell broke loose when Ronaldo then scored two in a row, both from offside positions, which escaped both the referee and his linesman. Eventually, Bayern were defeated by the referee, football, FIFA (and their no video technology rule), and fate. They deserved better than three terrible decisions, and will have to watch Madrid progress and fight for their third title in four years.
The other Spanish giant, meanwhile, couldn’t repeat their Nou Camp miracle again. Down 3-0 from the first leg in Italy, a frustrated Barcelona failed to score at home against Juventus, ending the game 0-0 and crashing out in the quarterfinal against a resolute team. This will be coach Luis Enrique’s last season with the Catalans, who are suffering due to Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta’s dip in form and energy. Enrique ends with one Champion’s League title, two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey titles (still in the reckoning for this year) and a Club World Cup title to his name.
Leicester City’s European faiytale ended in the quarterfinals, as they went down to Atletico Madrid, after bravely drawing 1-1 at home, but still losing the leg 2-1. They were the only English team to reach so far this year, and this could well be their last Champions League campaign in a few years.
Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United is enjoying an upswing of sorts. They defeated and mauled league leaders Chelsea at home on the weekend, before beating Anderlecht at home in extra-time of the dramatic second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal. While they are still fighting to finish in the top four of the English Premier League, their best chance to play Champions League football next season seems to be winning the Europa Cup – a possibility Mourinho isn’t taking lightly, given that they next face bitter rivals and fellow fourth-place battlers Manchester City next week on Friday.
CRICKET HERE CRICKET THERE
A strange thing is happening. Mumbai Indians have enjoyed their best-ever start to a league campaign by winning five out of their first six games. They’ve won five in a row basically, despite their captain Rohit Sharma scoring a total of around 55 runs in these matches. Jos Buttler destroyed Kings XI Punjab on Thursday night along with Nitesh Rana – the Orange Cap holder and sensation of this year. Rana didn’t hit a single four in his unbeaten 63, slamming six sixes instead, while his team chased down more than 190 with four overs to spare. They’re hitting all the right notes, and only Gautam Gambhir’s Kolkata Knight Riders are on any sort of streak to compete. The Riders have won four out of five, and another win would take them back to the top with a superior net run rate.
The other power performers of this year: Bhuvneshwar Kumar (15 wickets), Chris Morris (12 wickets), Rashid Khan (9 wickets) and David Warner, who is almost always at the top of the run-getters charts. Virat Kohli is struggling a bit with his timing, but it’ll be a matter of time before he climbs his way up, too, with two half centuries in his first three matches already. Hashim Amla became the second century scorer of the league this year (after Sanju Samson) against Mumbai Indians, but his team was mauled anyway. Kings XI have now lost four in a row after winning their first two games.
Chris Gayle passed the 10000-run mark in T20 cricket with a whirlwind 78 against Gujarat Lions earlier this week. He was picked back in the side after an injury to AB de Villiers, and he showed the world why he was easily the most feared batsman in the format – by far a record-holder in almost every statistic (number of sixes, runs, centuries (18), half centuries, average). And this is just the beginning. Gayle hitting form is good news for the Royal Challengers Bangalore – who’re suffering because of Shane Watson’s bad form, and KL Rahul’s absence.