Here’s what happened on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, in case you missed it…
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THE MAIN STORY
Son flying high for Spurs
Son Heung-min is not the best player in the world. But at the moment, you could certainly make the case for him being the most impactful.
Playing without the injured Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Tottenham looked to have a tough task on its hands against Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund currently sits atop the Bundesliga table with a five-point edge over Bayern Munich, and was touted as one of the teams to watch in the Champions league as the knockout stage began this week.
But it was Spurs, led by Son and Belgian star Jan Vertonghen, who looked irresistible on Wednesday at Wembley Stadium, with each of them scoring fabulous goals on volleys in the first leg of their Round-of-16 series. Vertonghen also set up Son’s opening goal with a perfectly played cross into the box that the South Korean finished off with aplomb.
Maybe it’s because he plays for Tottenham, and not Liverpool or one of the Manchester clubs, but not enough people are talking about Son. That’s a shame, because he deserves more recognition. As vital as Kane and Alli are to Spurs, Son has established himself as hugely influential for the London club in recent weeks.
His goal against Dortmund in Wednesday’s 2-0 win means he has been directly involved in 16 goals in his last 12 games in all competitions for Spurs (11 goals, five assists). Even more impressive is the fact that Tottenham has won each of the 12 games that Son has scored in during all competitions this season.
In the 60th minute, Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior received a high pass down the left flank, beautifully controlled it, and then burst into the box as he left three Ajax players in his wake. The Brazilian teenager then laid the ball off for Karim Benzema, who blasted a powerful shot into the top corner. A brilliant finish by Benzema, but the set-up play by Vinicius was fantastic.
Tottenham honoured former England World Cup winner Gordon Banks, who passed away earlier this week, outside its stadium by flying the flag at half-mast. Spurs also held a special moment of silence for Banks and Emiliano Sala just prior to kickoff.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Ajax swarmed Real Madrid right from the opening kickoff, dominating the Spaniards for most of the first half. But for all of their dominance, the Dutch couldn’t score and allowed Real to go into halftime tied at 0-0. Only for a lack of finishing in the opening 45 minutes, Ajax could have enjoyed a 2-0 lead going into the second half, which would have changed the complexion of the series. Instead, Real returns home for the second leg with two valuable road goals.
“Bit by bit, VAR is making football fairer.” – Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, after VAR overruled an Ajax goal for offside in the first half.
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is the seventh English player to face an English side in the Champions League for a non-British team, joining Reiss Nelson, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, Jonathan Woodgate, Owen Hargreaves and Steve McManaman.
• Sergio Ramos is the seventh Real Madrid player to reach 600 or more appearances for the club in all competitions.
• Jan Vertonghen scored and assisted in the same game for just the second time in his Tottenham career on Wednesday. The last time was in March 2013 against Swansea City in the Premier League.
• Vinicius Junior has tallied eight assists this season in all competitions, more than any other Real Madrid player.
• Tottenham are the first English side to win its home leg of a knockout tie against a German team in the Champions League since Manchester United in the 2010-11 semifinal vs. Schalke.
• Karim Benzema is only the fourth player to score 60 goals in the Champions League history, joining Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham: Deployed as a left wingback, the Belgian central defender was marvelous on the night, setting up Son’s opening goal with a perfect cross, and then scoring a great volley to give Spurs a 2-0 lead.
2) Son Heung-min, Tottenham: The South Korean opened the scoring with Spurs first shot on target, and he gave Dortmund’s defence plenty of problems.
3) Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid: The Brazilian teenager kept Ajax’s back line honest all night with his pace and ball control. And the individual effort he made to set up Karim Benzema’s goal was highlight-reel stuff.