The UEFA Champions League quarter-finals second-legs took place in midweek, with the remaining eight teams still standing in this year’s competition, looking to take another step on the road to Munich for May’s final. Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all had first-leg, away leads to preserve or build on, whilst Barcelona and AC Milan were locked together after a goal-less first leg at the San Siro last week. Here is a brief summary of the action.
Defending champions Barcelona were hot favourites to progress to the semi-finals when they entertained AC Milan at the Camp Nou on Tuesday evening. After a tight first-leg, in which the Italian side probably had the best of the clear cut chances, the Serie A outfit knew that an away goal could prove vital in helping them advance. However, it didn’t take long for the home side to open the scoring, and despite a brief fight-back, the Catalans would go on to seal the victory.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring in the 11th minute from the penalty spot, after being felled by a lunge from Antonini. Replays suggested that the Argentine did everything in his power to make sure that contact was made by the Italian defender, however the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, and booking the offender. Messi then rose to thump the ball into Abbiati’s bottom right corner with precision, beating the goalkeeper’s despairing dive.
Many expected the floodgates to open, however it was Milan who would score next. Against the run of play, Robinho and, former Barcelona striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, combined for the latter to slide in Nocerino, who’d got behind the Barcelona back four, and the defender beat Valdes with aplomb, finding the bottom corner. The Catalans were back in front shortly before the break though; the referee spotted Nesta’s shirt-pull on Busquets from a Barcelona corner, and, much to the disbelief of the Rosso-Neri, pointed to the spot once more, booking Nesta for his pains. Messi stepped up, and slammed the ball into the opposite corner, making it 14 Champions’ League goals for him this season so far, another record.
Into the second-half, and within three minutes Milan were claiming a penalty of their own; Ibrahimovic apparently hauled down by Javier Mascherano, referee Kuipers was, however, having none of it, and waved play on. Five minutes later and Milan’s fate was sealed; Lionel Messi’s shot, in the 53rd minute, was heavily deflected and fell kindly for Andres Iniesta; showing great composure, the midfielder controlled the loose ball and curled his effort round Abbiati and into the far corner, from close range. Boateng and Thiago had further chances to score for their respective teams, but both missed the target when in good positions; final score Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan.
Also on Tuesday evening Bayern Munich took a step closer to, what would be for them, a home final, by finishing off Marseille 2-0 at the Allianz Arena. The Germans, who were 0-2 up from the first-leg through Gomez and Robben, rested their top scorer for the return-leg and still ran out comfortable 4-0 aggregate winners.
It was Gomez’s replacement, Ivica Olic, who did the business for the German side with two very similar first half strikes. After Marseilles had enjoyed the best of the early chances, Loic Remy coming close, the pacey Croatian front-man was on hand to finish off a flowing Bayern move. Franck Ribery’s approach play was excellent, and when the French international burst into the Marseille penalty area in the thirteenth minute and provided a low cross, Olic gobbled it up to make it 1-0.
Eight minutes before the break it was 2-0; Ribery was involved in the build up again, this time exchanging passes with Alaba, who would provide the cross for Olic to score almost a carbon copy of his first goal. The pressure had been building on Didier Deschamps’ side before the second goal, with Thomas Mueller’s flash header calling Mandanda into action, before Tony Kroos had thumped a left-foot strike against the post.
After the break the tempo of the game slowed, and although Ribery and Kroos continued to threaten from time to time, the game seemed to be over as a contest fairly early on in the half. Brandao had Marseille’s best chance in the final quarter of the match, but his free header from six yards out was placed woefully off target; final score Bayern Munich 2-0 Marseille.
Real Madrid were heavily fancied to roll over, Cypriot champions, Apoel Nicosia at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night. Already 0-3 up from the first-leg, the Spanish league leaders wasted little time in pushing further ahead in the tie, with Cristiano Ronaldo opening the scoring in the 27th minute. After dominating the early stages, and coming close on a number of occasions through Higuain and Ronaldo, Madrid scored; Marcelo’s tempter of a cross from the right evaded Higuain, but found the Portuguese free at the back post, and he competed the simplest of tasks.
Ten minutes later, and Kaka reminded everybody that “he hasn’t gone away you know”. Picking up the ball slightly left of centre, 25 yards out, the Brazilian midfielder unleashed a gorgeous right-footed curler, which arched its way into the top right corner of the goal, leaving Pardo absolutely no chance.
After the interval Madrid seemed content to coast, dropping off, they let their opponents enjoy much more of the ball, with the Apoel attacking options seemingly blunt. However increased possession and Madrid’s lethargy encouraged the Cypriot minnows, and, in the 67th minute, they scored an unlikely consolation. Top scorer Gustavo Manduca was involved in some neat build-up play, before Ailton released him in behind the Real back line, the striker made no mistake, coolly finding the bottom corner.
The goal re-awakened Mourinho’s men, and seven minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo struck again for the home side, curling in what can only be described as the perfect free-kick, which curved past Pardo before he could blink. The Portuguese doesn’t often get his free-kicks right, but when he does, they’re explosive. Callejon, a second half substitute, added Los Blancos’ fourth ten minutes from time, when he buried di Maria’s pass.
It was Angel di Maria himself, returning from a lengthy injury lay-off, who put the icing on the cake with Real’s fifth, a delightful chip from the edge of the area (90), however not before Apoel had added a little more respectability to the score-line. Altintop’s clumsy 88th minute foul on Adorno was penalised by the referee, and Esteban Solari calmly scored from the spot; final score Real Madrid 5-2 Apoel Nicosia, 8-2 on aggregate, Real now face Bayern in the semi-final.
Finally, to Stamford Bridge where Chelsea met Benfica, carrying a 0-1 lead from the first-leg in Lisbon. Benfica, who had progressed to the knock-out stages ahead of Manchester United, had more of the ball, and were the better team for much of the game, however Chelsea probably just shaded it on clear-cut chances, and, they had the all important ingredient at this level, that little bit of luck.
After a nervy opening, in which the home side had been very much on the back foot, Chelsea were handed the lead in the 21st minute. There seemed to be little danger when Ashley Cole broke into the box, his first touch appeared to have lost him possession, however a crazy barge from behind by Javi Garcia, left the referee no option but to award a penalty. Frank Lampard’s spot-kick was sent low to Artur’s right, the Portuguese keeper’s dive took him over the ball, which nestled in the back of the net.
Benfica continued to pose a threat through Gaitan, Aimar and Cardozo in particular, with the latter’s goal-bound effort cleared to safety by John Terry. However, five minutes before half-time Chelsea’s luck shone through again; Maxi Perreira, the Benfica captain, booked for protesting the award of the penalty, received his second yellow card for a challenge on Jon Obi Mikel, putting the team from Portugal a man down.
In the second half Benfica continued to press, and maintained a good share of possession despite being down to ten men. Aimar, the veteran Argentine, was seeing a lot of the ball, and attempting to dictate play, with Cardozo producing a fantastic save from Petr Cech in the opening minutes of the half. Chelsea, a man up, were creating chances, Ramires inexplicably missed an empty net from a yard, before Mata and Torres had efforts saved, and Kalou and Mata missed the target from decent opportunities.
Five minutes from time Benfica were level; the man who conceded the first-half penalty, Javi Garcia, totally unmarked inside the six yard box, was able to head home from a corner. There were more than a few anxious groans amongst the Stamford Bridge faithful in the final five minutes, as Benfica continued to push for the second goal which would have taken them through, however they needn’t have worried.
Raul Mereiles was first to the ball from another Benfica corner, he flicked the ball over the defender and broke free down the right’, Ramires breakneck sprint through the centre took the covering defender away from the ball, allowing Mereiles, the former Porto and Liverpool man, to advance on the penalty area, and smash a swerving rocket of an early shot, beyond Artur, and into the top corner. Final score Chelsea 2-1 Benfica, 3-1 on aggregate, Benfica left bemoaning refereeing decisions, Chelsea face Barcelona in the semis.
Bayern Image by Rami. Messi Image by Maksur. Ronaldo Image by Jan SOLO