Champions’ League Quarter-Final First-Leg Round-Up

Champions TrophyThis season’s Champions’ League has reached the quarter-final stage, the first-legs took place in midweek and produced some fascinating clashes. There follows a brief summary of all four matches, as Europe’s elite do battle in their quest to become Champions’ League winners for 2011/12.

Real Madrid travelled to Cyprus on Tuesday night to take on Cypriot Champions and UEFA Champions’ League surprise package, Apoel Nicosia.  Apoel are the first team from Cyprus to ever make the knock-out stages of the competiton, and their remarkable penalty shoot-out win over Lyon in the last 16, earned them the right to take on one of its most successful ever clubs.

Apoel began the game in determined fashion, attempting to put the Spanish giants on the back foot early on. It didn’t take long, however, for Real to begin dominating their hosts in an attacking sense; Oezil, Benzema and Coentrao all going close in the opening period. Karim Benzema missed Madrid’s best chance of the first half, somehow putting his finish wide, after Sahin’s cross evaded Chiotis and found the Frenchman free with the goal gaping.

Mourinho’s men came out for the second half fired up, increasing the intensity of their play and applying ever more pressure on their opponents. Apoel’s progress in the competition has been built on strong defensive play and, as the game continued, it began to look like they might hold on for a famous draw. Real, however, had other ideas and in the 74th minute, they opened the scoring through Karim Benzema.

Benzema arrived to meet Kaka’s perfect cross, and the striker guided his header into the far corner. Seven minutes later Kaka turned scorer, sliding Marcelo’s cutback into the back of the net, breaking Apoel hearts as he did so. Los Blancos sealed their win in the 90th minute, a lightening burst from Ronaldo ended with the Portuguese superstar laying the ball to Oezil, his ball across the box allowed Benzema to tap in from close range. 0-3 the final score, tough on Apoel, however, Mourinho’s men, deservedly, march on.

Chelsea scored a precious away goal in Lisbon to defeat Benfica 0-1 on Tuesday evening. The Portuguese side, who’d knocked out Zenith in the last round, had a number of chances to take the lead. Oscar Cardoza was denied by a fantastic goal line clearance by David Luiz, after shooting narrowly wide on a an earlier occasion, whilst Cech had to be at his best to keep out Cesar.

Chelsea had chances too; Kalou missed an excellent chance ten minutes into the second-half, before Juan Mata hit the post, having rounded Artur in goal for Benfica. The Londoner’s would get the break-through, however, and it was Salomon Kalou who applied the finish fifteen minutes from time. Great work by Fernando Torres down the Chelsea right culminated in the Spaniard providing a delightful little chipped cross, directly into the Ivorian’s path, and, atoning for his earlier miss, the latter found the back of the net from four yards. 0-1 Chelsea, nicely poised, but the Blues look good to qualify.

Bayern Munich kept up their good form in this year’s competition by defeating Marseilles, 0-2, at the Stade Velodrome on Wednesday evening. The French side began strongly and had the best of the opening period but, crucially, they failed to take their chances. Neuer produced a marvellous save to keep out Fanni’s point-blank header, but only Loic Remy will know how he failed to put the rebound in. Remy had another good chance on 41 minutes, after a poor clearance from the Germans, however his effort was tame, and straight at Neuer.  Remy’s side were punished for his profligacy just a minute before the interval; Mario Gomez’s powerful strike from the edge of the box was well within Andrade’s grasp, but the third choice goalkeeper, in because of Mandanda’s suspension, allowed the ball to go through his arms and into the back of the net.

The timing of the goal was invaluable, and Bayern emerged as the dominant force in the second-half. Andre Ayew’s header, straight at Neuer, and Remy’s toe poke, also straight at Neuer, after the Bayern defence had made a hash of possession, were the best that Didier Deschamps’ men could muster. Gomez had another great chance, but Andrade saved well, before Bayern all but settled the tie with their second, twenty minutes from time; Arjen Robben providing the finish from close range, after some majestic inter-play with Thomas Mueller. 0-2 the final score, and with Bayern’s strength at home, they are almost certain to go through.

Finally, the tie of the round, between AC Milan and Barcelona, got off to a cagey start in the San Siro on Wednesday evening. The state of the pitch wasn’t conducive to  Barcelona’s free-flowing, short –passing, tiki taka style of play, a fact that they’ve launched an official complaint about, although it was hardly helpful to Milan either.

Pep Guardiola’s men, as is the norm, dominated possession for large portions of the game, but found themselves frustrated, both by an excellent defensive display from the Rosso Nieri, and by the unpredictability of the San Siro turf. Although happy with a draw, Milan will be kicking themselves that they didn’t take more out of this first-leg encounter, as they, undoubtedly, had the best chances of the game.

Milan should’ve taken the lead in the opening ten minutes; Robinho found himself unmarked in the centre after a Milan break, and when the ball popped up, he had time and space in the middle of the goal, however, he snatched at the dropping ball and side footed his volley harmlessly over the bar. Ibrahimovic also had a great chance in the opening period, but, after getting goal-side of Puyol, he placed his low shot too close to Valdes, who did well to get down and hold onto it.

The Catalans had a good shout for a first-half penalty turned down, when Abbiati seemed to take down Alexis after the Chilean had just flicked the ball away from him; the appeals were waved away. Barcelona’s grip on the game intensified as the night wore on, Sanchez was denied by Antonini’s last ditch tackle, Xavi was denied by Abbiati, and in the second-half, Tello went close on two occasions after coming on as a substitute, whilst Ambrosini’s miraculous block denied Messi. 0-0 the final score, a finely balanced tie between two juggernauts of the game, but with Barcelona’s record at home, it would have to be one hell of a performance for Milan to come out on top.

Image by DannyMX

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