Tottenham Hotspur set up a UEFA Champions League semi-final with Ajax as they saw off Premier League rivals Manchester City on away goals as their quarter-final tie ended 4-4 on aggregate on an incredible night of drama.
City won the quarter-final second leg 4-3 at the Etihad Stadium but it wasn’t enough to progress as Spurs’ three away goals sent them through after their 1-0 win in London a week ago.
The Premier League rivals played out one of the craziest first halves of football ever seen in the Champions League as they scored an incredible five goals between them before the game was even 21 minutes old.
Raheem Sterling plundered two for City and Spurs’ South Korean star Son Heung-Min bagged two of his own, while City’s Bernardo Silva also netted to ensure the hosts went in 3-2 up at the break – but still needing at least one more goal with the teams level at 3-3 on aggregate but Spurs ahead on away goals.
In an equally breathless second half, Sergio Aguero struck a fierce drive for City on 59 minutes to put the hosts 4-2 ahead on the night and 4-3 up on aggregate.
But it wasn’t enough as Fernando Llorente bundled home from a corner to level the tie at 4-4 and see Spurs through on away goals.
Incredibly, City saw an injury-time goal from Sterling disallowed for offside.
It was a stunning, topsy-turvy game that showcased all of City’s and Spurs’ attacking talents but equally their defensive frailties.
But the London club emerged as the unlikely winners to set up a semi-final date with a young Ajax team who have seen off Real Madrid and Juventus, and who will be looking at their next-round opponents with equal relish at their porous defense and trepidation at their attacking threat.
FIVE GOALS IN 17 MINUTES
On a night that will go down in Champions League folklore, City were first to get the scoring spree underway at the Etihad when the in-form Raheem Sterling was picked out on the left by playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, then cutting inside to curl a shot into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Hugo Lloris.
City were already showing a tempo and urgency strangely lacking last week in London, and were level in the tie.
But they came immediately undone when Spurs’ own man of the moment, Son Heung-Min, collected a pass diverted into his path by Aymeric Laporte, shooting low under the left leg of Ederson.
Less than eight minutes played, and the tie had shifted one way and then the other as Spurs had a crucial away goal.
Laporte – such a reliable presence this season for City – was again culpable when he gave the ball away and Christian Eriksen found Son, who curled the ball brilliantly past Ederson from the edge of the box on 10 minutes.
Spurs were 2-1 up on the night and 3-1 ahead on aggregate, and City needed to score at least three to win.
But given that both sides had given leave to their collective defensive senses, nothing seemed impossible on such a surreal night in Manchester.
And so it proved when City incredibly got one of the goals they needed just one minute later, when the Tottenham marking was non-existent on the right, where Bernardo Silva collected the ball and fired through Danny Rose’s legs and past Lloris.
City were level at 2-2 on the night, but found themselves 3-2 ahead when De Bruyne again turned the creator for Sterling with an inch-perfect pass for the England forward at the back post, where Sterling turned home.
It was 3-3 on aggregate, but City still needed at least one more as they were behind on away goals.
The sides continued to press relentlessly heading into half-time, and Son came close to scoring a hat-trick when he shaved the post with another curling strike from range.
Spurs, missing their injured strike star Harry Kane and already stretched to the bare bones of their squad, suffered more injury woe when midfielder Moussa Sissoko was forced off just before half-time, being replaced by striker Fernando Llorente, who was to have a fateful impact on the game.
Both sides survived until half-time without conceding, perhaps having punched themselves out with such a remarkable first half.
LLORENTE THE UNLIKELY HERO
Five minutes into the second half, and Sterling almost had another as he poked the ball into Lloris at full stretch when six yards out before Spurs scrambled the ball clear.
Lloris palmed away a De Bruyne shot shortly after as City were camped in the Tottenham half in the opening stages of the second half.
Spurs’ threat would not be completely cowed, as Llorente tested Ederson with a header, but soon afterwards they were behind.
City striker Sergio Aguero, peripheral up to that point, announced himself at the perfect time, collecting a pass from the imperious De Bruyne before rifling a right-footed shot past Lloris at his near post.
Sixty minutes gone and City, finally, incredibly, were ahead in the tie at 4-3.
But the drama was far from done, when Llorente met a corner with his side and the ball dropped past Ederson with just over 15 minutes to play.
It went to the VAR to check whether it had gone in off the Spaniard’s hand, but referee Cunyet Cakir adjudged it had gone in off his thigh after consulting the replay.
The tie had swung back Spurs’ way, but City thought they had had the last word when Sterling fired into the net deep into injury time, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for an offside from Aguero in the build-up.
It was a barely-believable end to a barely-believable tie.
But when it was over City, just as last season – when they lost at the same stage to Liverpool – had seen domestic rivals behind their downfall.
Spurs marched on to a semi-final date with Ajax – a pairing few people would have imagined at the start of the tournament.
LIVERPOOL EASE PAST PORTO TO SET UP BARCELONA CLASH
In the night’s other quarter-final second leg, Liverpool completed a routine win over Porto, running out 4-1 winners in Portugal to seal their tie 6-1 on aggregate.
Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk were all on the scoresheet for last year’s beaten finalists, while Eder Militao scored a consolation for the hosts.
Liverpool now face Lionel Messi and Barcelona in a mouth-watering semi-final that many will feel will determine the overall winners of this year’s competition.