Sérgio Oliveira never should have had the chance. In the 113th minute of Porto’s odyssey of a Champions League knockout-round meetup in Torino with Juventus, the Porto midfielder snaked a clever little ball through U.S. stalwart Weston McKennie’s legs and manufactured a free-kick opportunity a few yards out from the penalty box. McKennie barely touched Oliveira, but then again, putting your hands on a guy who’s just dribbled past you is more often than not going to result in a foul. Oliveira stepped up to the free kick with the aggregate score tied at 3–3 and even on away goals, his team having frantically—and only semi-successfully—defended a ceaseless Juventus advance for over an hour. He was drained, as were his teammates and opponents around him, and the game seemed to be lurching towards either a bloodless Juventus winner or the cosmic uncertainty of penalty kicks. Naturally, Oliveira snuck his shot under the worst wall ever constructed and buried it in the low corner.
Oliveira’s goal proved decisive for Porto, though the suite of circumstances that set him up to zip a little wormburner past Wojciech Szczesny are perhaps even more remarkable than the goal itself. The UCL’s two-leg knockout round setup allows for plenty of furious comebacks and dramatic endings, thanks in part to the vital importance of away goals. Leads feel less secure for home teams, and some goals feel like they count for double. There are plenty of examples of two-legged ties becoming funereal, but Tuesday’s match turned into a thriller. It had almost everything you could ask for from a high-stakes European game: agonizing near-misses, horrible decisions, heroic saves, sublime displays of skill, and, most importantly, a grand finale.
Porto traveled to Italy up 2–1 on aggregate, and they quickly added to their lead thanks to some penalty box trickery from Mehdi Taremi. Through the first three halves of action, Taremi had drawn the critical penalty and also scored a cheap little goal off a Szczesny boo-boo. If he had made all the positive difference for the Portuguese side up through halftime on Tuesday, he quickly negated his good works by drawing a remarkably boneheaded red card. Porto were comfortably in control of the game until Taremi kicked the ball real hard when he shouldn’t have. Every player must learn the valuable lesson of when not to kick the ball, but Taremi did so at the worst possible time (two minutes after receiving a yellow card). Even if his ejection made a little more sense than Robin van Persie’s infamous red card against Barcelona almost exactly 10 years ago, Taremi was understandably pissed enough to tell the ref to fuck off.
Juventus wasted little time taking advantage of their extra life. Federico Chiesa, who’d just banged one into the top right corner, equalized the aggregate score by picking out the top left corner with a running header. Chiesa was Juventus’s liveliest player all night, and most of his team’s pushes for a winner came through him. The ball would wind over to Juan Cuadrado on the right, who would typically move it on a string to Chiesa via Arthur and Adrian Rabiot and Alex Sandro, and then Chiesa would do something. Álvaro Morata and Cristiano Ronaldo would touch it sometimes too, but usually not to great effect.
Down a man and very much on the back foot, Porto seemed screwed. Pepe, the (thankfully) bald master of sabotage, stymied several promising moves and keeper Agustín Marchesín stood tall in the face of the onslaught. Still, the dam seemed on the verge of breaking due to either sheer volume or one moment of brilliance. Juventus nearly won, twice, in extra time. Morata put one past Marchesín, only to have it called back because he was, as usual, offside. Minutes later, Juan Cuadrado turned Luis Díaz into a traffic cone and smacked one into the post at 1,000,000 miles per hour.
Once extra time kicked off, Porto tried to play a little, which seemed to catch Juventus off guard. Their uninterrupted spells around the penalty box turned into frantic dashes back to their own goal, and though the adjustment let Chiesa get free a few times, Juventus was tired enough not to take advantage. Fresh legs didn’t help them, as McKennie was one of the freshest Juventus players on the field when he committed the game-losing foul. Rabiot immediately leveled for Juventus after Oliveira’s goal, though away goals meant Juventus needed another one. Somehow, they almost scored two separate times in the last minute of the second extra time period’s stoppage time, and after the game I’d witnessed, I fully expected one of them to go in.
Will Porto get owned in the next round? Probably, since the round looks like it will be populated exclusively by killers, unless Chelsea advances. Still, even if there’s not a trophy at the end of all this, a win like that is to be savored on its own terms, and ejecting Ronaldo from the Champions League is always worth celebrating.