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A wild Champions League quarterfinal night ends with a controversial call at Arsenal

A wild Champions League quarterfinal night ends with a controversial call at Arsenal

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka goes down after a challenge by Bayern’s Manuel Neuer during the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg match at Emirates Stadium on Monday in London. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

There were 10 total goals and countless twists. Dozens of world-class players and four fantastic teams. Night No. 1 of the 2024 Champions League quarterfinals delivered as only the Champions League can — and it ended with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka bearing down on Bayern Munich's goal, with one last dramatic turn at the tip of his deft left foot.

It was the fifth of five minutes of stoppage time in London. While Manchester City and Real Madrid were dueling to a 3-3 draw in Spain, Arsenal and Bayern were tied, 2-2. A pass slipped through into Saka's path, and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer clattered into him … or did he?

The entire Emirates Stadium roared, almost expecting to hear a whistle.

But referee Glenn Nyberg waved away the expectant appeals.

And after Nyberg blew his whistle to end a frantic first leg 30 seconds later, replays showed that he might have been correct.

Saka had attempted to sidestep Neuer. His right leg clattered into Neuer's. The question — one without a straightforward answer — was which of the two initiated the contact.

Multiple angles appeared to suggest that Saka had. He'd pushed the ball to his left, but flailed his right leg back to the right, while Neuer had actually attempted to bring his own right leg away from Saka, back in toward his own body.

The contrasting view is that Saka's leg kick was unintentional. His body's momentum had carried him toward Neuer. The goalkeeper's wide base had, arguably, been the primary reason for the contact, and impeded Saka as the Arsenal winger tried to cut back to the ball.

It was smack-dab in every gray area. Saka fumed. Arsenal fans howled. But video assistant referees saw no "clear and obvious error."

And so — after goals from Saka and Leandro Trossard, but also from former Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry and former Tottenham striker Harry Kane — one blockbuster quarterfinal tie will go to Munich next week, for the second leg, level at 2-2.

The other, remarkably, was even more topsy-turvy.

Manchester City needed only two minutes to take a lead in Madrid. Bernardo Silva caught the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu off guard with a clever free kick that surprised Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, and snuck into the net.

Less than 10 minutes later, Madrid answered with two goals in two minutes. A deflection enabled the first. Rodrygo scored the second, by finishing off a lightning-quick counterattack.

For an hour thereafter, City labored in search of an equalizer. Erling Haaland was largely invisible.

But in the 66th minute, City's latest superstar, homegrown midfielder Phil Foden, blasted a 20-yard rocket into the top corner — his 14th goal in his last 20 games.

And five minutes later, Joško Gvardiol one-upped him. The Croatian defender put City ahead, 3-2, with his first goal for the club.

Real Madrid's Federico Valverde, though, saved the best of the bunch for last.

With a 3-2 deficit and a difficult second leg in Manchester staring Los Blancos in the face, Valverde ran onto Vinicius Jr.'s cross, and pinged an unstoppable volley into the side-netting.

And so it ended, 3-3, jaws on the floor — in Madrid, and London, and everywhere around the world, anywhere someone had been fortunate enough to flip on their TV or fire up a stream.

The Champions League is regularly billed as soccer's very best club competition. And yet again, it proved that, if anything, "best" might be an understatement.

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