While Manchester United was handing PSG yet another hilarious Champions League collapse in Paris, another, similarly entertaining match was going down 985 miles to the southwest of Europe. Porto hosted Roma at the Estádio do Dragão in Portugal, with the home team needing to make up a 2-1 first leg deficit, albeit with one away goal in their pocket.
Unfortunately for those who wanted to check out this even-looking match instead of (what seemed like it would be) a one-sided Paris affair, the main channels for the Champions League stateside—TNT and Univision (hi, dad!)—were both showing United-PSG. You could only find Porto-Roma on Galavision. Fortunately for those who did seek it out, though, the two sides delivered a banger of a match.
From the beginning of the game, both teams—perhaps unburdened by expectations—played loosely, which thankfully led to a sloppy, beautiful disaster. While both teams were wasteful with their chances, Porto was perhaps a bit more efficient, which, in addition to a little bit of VAR magic, turned out to be the difference in an eventual 3-1 extra time victory to seal their place in the next round of the Champions League.
Things started off wonderfully for Porto, who scored in the 26th minute through Tiquinho Soares:
While Porto would’ve gone through to the next round had the score stayed where it was after Soares’s goal, it always seemed like more goals were coming. And that’s when things started to go wrong for them. Just nine minutes later, defender Éder Militão tripped up Roma dribbling machine Diego Perotti in the box for as clear a penalty call as you will get in the Champions League (certainly more definitive than the one that decided the United-PSG tie).
Roma captain and dreamboat Daniele De Rossi sent Porto goalie Iker Casillas (remember him?) the wrong way for the penalty and, just like that, the Italians were going through and the Portuguese side were back on the ropes. Which, of course, they were able to turn around.
Big Moussa Marega (who assisted Soares’s opener) jumped the Roma defensive line at just the right moment following a post-corner kick scramble, finding himself with an easy tap-in off of a wonderfully prescient Jesús Corona cross in the 51st minute. Just like that, Roma’s first-leg advantage was completely neutralized:
There were enough near misses and scuffles to fill an entire two-legged tie in just the second half, the best being between certified shithead Pepe and Roma’s big Bosnian striker Edin Džeko:
Not sure what was better, the very clear, very loud “Fuck you!” from Pepe, or the comically exaggerated dive from Džeko, who acted like Pepe did...well, what you would normally assume Pepe would do, rather than what he actually did.
Roma mostly dominated the first half of extra time, peppering the home side’s box with crosses and cut-backs but not finding a clear shot on goal. Porto seemed content enough to ride out the pressure and rely on their crowd to see them through either in the second half of extra time or in penalty kicks.
The second fifteen minutes of bonus soccer were more exciting, particularly inside the Porto box. Most notably, Džeko got the ball on his powerful right foot from about 10 yards out, only to blast it about 10 rows into the crowd. He would follow that up about 30 seconds later with a one-on-one attempt that he tried to chip into the net, only to hit it too softly:
And then came VAR. Alessandro Florenzi took down Fernando in the box in the dying gasps of the match, and the refs turned to video review to assess the damage. Roma probably feels screwed over by the video-assisted awarding of a penalty for Porto when it was a no-call on the field; after all, you need clear evidence of a mistake to overturn with VAR, and even on slowed-down replay, Florenzi’s little tug felt slight. Maybe VAR really does suck!
Either way, left back (yes, a left back!) Alex Telles stepped up to take the penalty and blasted the ball into the net, and sent Porto into the quarterfinals.
Sure, no one would blame you if you didn’t watch this match, as the other one finished with the exact same score only in favor of the away team (usually an indicator of a better game). But Porto coming back in front of their famously rabid home crowd, and on a last-minute, VAR-aided penalty? That is spice that everyone deserved to see. Porto will now almost certainly get crushed by one of the powerhouses in the quarterfinals; they aren’t very good, and will be in a round highlighted (we assume) by Barcelona, Manchesters City and United, and Atlético Madrid.
But that probably won’t matter to Porto fans or anyone who tuned in to watch the most unheralded match of the round of 16 turn out to be one of the best.