Throughout the entirety of the 2020-21 season in world football, there have great highs and lows, big wins and letdowns, wonderful individual performances, magnificent goals and, of course, fantastic matches.
But today’s article will be focusing on the latter. There are doubtlessly many terrific matches missing from this list, but these were certainly five highlights of the season.
Honorable mentions: Inter Milan 4-3 Fiorentina, PSG 0-1 Marseille, Portland Timbers 1-1 FC Dallas, Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool, Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City
- Granada 3-5 Barcelona – Copa del Rey Quarterfinals – Feb. 3, 2021
It has not been the best season for Barcelona as they go through a transitionary phase. However, one thing will never change: Barcelona is a fun team to watch, and many of their matches this season could have been featured here.
While Granada is not one of Spain’s elite, they have proven over the past few seasons that they are a solid team who can beat anyone in the league on their day.
When the Copa del Rey quarterfinal matchup kicked off between Barcelona and Granada, it was the Southern Spanish underdogs who started off on the front foot, capitalizing on Barcelona’s defensive errors. Kenedy bundled the ball over the line before the veteran striker, and Roberto Soldado made the score 2-0 in the second half on the breakaway.
With less than 10 minutes left, Barcelona desperately attacked with all their might, but the ball simply did not go in the net. When it seemed Barcelona were out of the tournament, a cross from Lionel Messi found Antoine Griezmann, who was able to just about poke the ball into the net.
Then, two minutes into injury-time, the left-back, Jordi Alba surprisingly headed in Barcelona’s equalizer after Griezmann’s weighted pass. With the scores tied, the match went into extra time. Early on, Griezmann again stepped up for his team with another header, putting Barcelona up 3-2.
Granada were not going to let their opponents off easy as they eventually got a penalty—which Fede Vico scored—tying the match 3-3. However, in the second half of extra time, Barcelona’s quality really showed as a blocked shot from Messi was easily redirected into the net by Frenkie de Jong, giving Barcelona the lead once more. To add icing to the cake, a cheeky outside-the-boot cross from Griezmann found Alba again, who smashed the ball into the goal at the near post with a brilliant volley.
- Palmeiras 0-2 River Plate – Copa Libertadores Semifinals – Jan. 12, 2021
For those who have never watched South American football, it is almost a completely different sport, with the level of passion by both fans and players unmatched anywhere else in the world. The second leg of the Copa Libertadores semifinal between Palmeiras and River Plate was a great example.
In the first leg, Palmeiras went to Buenos Aires and beat River 3-0 in their own stadium with a shocking performance. Despite being down three goals and away from home, River never counted themselves out and went to Sao Paulo expecting a comeback.
Perhaps too complacent with their lead, Palmeiras were the ones shocked this match as River came out the gates swinging. River took the lead after Robert Rojas’ header following a corner, and Rafael Borre shanked the ball into the net only a few minutes later, putting River up 2-0. With the match in their hands, they only needed one more goal to equalize.
However, that goal would painfully never arrive. In the second half, full-back Gonzalo Montiel scored a nice volley, but VAR disallowed it as part of the buildup seemed to be offside. Then, River was awarded a penalty after Matias Suarez was fouled in the box, only for the referee to reverse his decision as VAR said Suarez dived.
With only a few minutes left, Palmeiras held on for dear life as River had close chance after close chance. Unfortunately for the Argentines, none would find the back of the net and Palmeiras went through to the finals.
- Juventus 3-2 Porto – Champions League Round of 16 – March 9, 2021
The most recent entry on this list, played only last Wednesday, was most likely the best match of the 2020-21 Champions League season so far. After a surprising win in the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup, underdogs Porto traveled to Turin to face the Italian giants of Juventus in their home stadium.
With a star-studded lineup. featuring players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Federico Chiesa, Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Leonardo Bonucci, many thought that Juventus would ultimately reverse their 2-1 loss in the previous match. However, Porto thoroughly outplayed Juventus at the match’s start, troubling their opponent’s backline on numerous occasions while standing strong in defense themselves.
Pepe, in particular, rolled back the years with a world-class performance from central defense. Porto actually opened the score when they were awarded a penalty, which Sergio Oliveira put away expertly.
Despite Porto dominating the first half, the second would go much differently. Federico Chiesa equalized for Juve and Porto’s striker, and Mehdi Taremi was sent off for an avoidable foul. With a wonderful header, Chiesa scored yet again, putting Juve up 2-1, and 3-3 on aggregate sent the match to extra time.
Not letting the momentum swing too far in favor of Juve, the Portuguese valiantly pushed onwards. Then, deep into extra time, Oliveira stood up for a free kick, far off from Juve’s goal. With an audacious and powerful shot, the ball snuck under the wall and into the net, giving Porto the crucial advantage.
The drama wouldn’t end there though as only two minutes later, Adrien Rabiot scored a header for Juve. However, it was too little too late; while Juve led 3-2 on the night, Porto went through with the away goals advantage in the 4-4 aggregate score.
- Bayern Munich 2-1 Sevilla – UEFA Super Cup Final – Sept. 24, 2020
Being that the Super Cup is contested between the Champions League winners and the Europa League winners (Europe’s two top club competitions), great games are guaranteed—and the 2020 Final was no different.
Bayern Munich, the Champions League champions, were seen as the favorites but Sevilla, the Europa League champions, were no pushovers. The match started off with a cagey and disjointed atmosphere, and Sevilla exploited that when Ivan Rakitic was pushed in the box and Sevilla got a penalty. Lucas Ocampos scored, and Sevilla took the lead.
From that point on, Bayern viciously pressured Sevilla, attacking relentlessly, but Sevilla was able to hold firm for the most part. Before the first half ended, Bayern would eventually undo their opponents with a beautiful team goal, finished off by Leon Goretzka with a side-footed shot.
After that, the match was anyone’s for the taking. Bayern continued to attack persistently, but Sevilla carved out their own chances on the counter. In the second half, Bayern thought they took the lead on two occasions with goals from Robert Lewandowski and Leroy Sane, but they were both ruled out for an offside call and a foul respectively. Sevilla had some great chances, too, but neither side was able to score and the match went to extra time.
Early into the first period, Sevilla had a golden opportunity to snatch a win after Youssef En-Nesyri sped away one v. one against Bayern’s keeper, Manuel Neuer. However, Neuer rushed out of goal and made a wonderful save after En-Nesyri’s shot was off-balance.
It was eventually Bayern who scored the elusive goal as a set-piece ricocheted the ball in Sevilla’s box before finding David Alaba, who lumped it towards goal. Sevilla’s keeper, Yassine Bounou, palmed the shot away, but Bayern’s experienced midfielder, Javi Martinez, was able to steer the ball into the net with his head, sealing Bayern’s win and defending their claim as the best team in Europe.
- Ecuador 6-1 Colombia – CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers – Nov. 17, 2020
As mentioned earlier, South American football can be passionate and chaotic at times, but international football can be the same. South American World Cup qualifying is often characterized as the hardest in the world due to the talent level of the teams and the harsh climates. Even with all of that in mind, the final result of the Ecuador vs. Colombia match was expected by no one.
Despite Colombia having a run of bad form, they still possess one of the best squads in the world, headlined by superstars like James Rodriguez, Duvan Zapata, Juan Cuadrado and Luis Muriel. Even though Ecuador have a plethora of young talent, Colombia was still seen as slight favorites.
However, the match went the opposite of what was expected. From the first minute to the last, Ecuador ran riot over their Colombian neighbors. Ecuador would open the score only seven minutes in with Robert Arboleda’s swinging volley following a set-piece. Ecuador’s lead would be doubled two minutes later when Angel Mena capitalized on Colombia’s high defensive line.
From there on, Colombia’s defense absolutely collapsed, as Ecuador was easily able to just cross the ball into the box and find their players. Goals from Michael Estrada and Xavier Arreaga put Ecuador up 4-0 before the 40-minute mark. Although James was able to pin one back for Colombia with a penalty just before the half ended, all hope of a comeback was deflated after Gonzalo Plata scored an undeniably world-class goal with a curling longshot following a backheel assist from Mena.
To add to the craziness of the match, Plata celebrated his goal by taking off his shirt, forcing the referee to give him a yellow card. Given that Plata already had a previous yellow, he was hilariously sent off. In the 90+1 minute, Pervis Estupinan would tap in yet another goal for Ecuador, solidifying a statement win for this upcoming team in world football.