|Mata and Kalou celebrate his goal against Benfica|
Tuesday March 27th, 2012
Benfica 0-1 Chelsea: Chelsea appear to be revived after Roberto Di Matteo took over for the sacked Portuguese manager, Andre Villas-Boas. Chelsea were able to turn the tables after they found themselves down 3-1 after the first leg of the first knockout game in Napes. Di Matteo knew that his side needed a miracle to go through, and indeed a four goal miracle came through for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after Ivanovic scored the winner for them in the first half of extra time. Benfica finished top in their group and defeated Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg in the round of sixteen to secure their spot in the quarter finals.
The first half was fairly even, with good attacks coming from both teams, but a disciplined Chelsea defense and some smart play from Benfica kept the first half scoreline a stalemate. Chelsea were the first to make the attack when Meireles won the ball in the midfield but it was easily broken up by the Benfica defense after reaching the feet of Saloman Kalou. Chelsea were the main attackers in the first half, but there seemed to be a slight disconnect between the midfield and strikers Fernando Torres and Kalou. Benfica had their fair share of attacks, many of them coming from Bruno Cesar, but his efforts were either broken up by the visiting side’s organized defense or stopped by Petr Cech.
In the second half, Chelsea were not as dominant and didn’t possess the ball as much as the home side. They were, however, able to take advantage of the possession gained by breaking up the Benfica attacks. Mata hit the post in the 60th minute after he was able to run on the blind side of the Benfica defense and beat the keeper but it wasn’t meant to be as the ball went bouncing off of the post and out of bounds. Witsel’s shot in the 64th minute was deflected off of a Chelsea midfielder and very nearly worked its way into the back of the net past Petr Cech, but Benfica were right back on the attack. Chelsea’s goal came in the 74th minute after Fernando Torres picked up a loose ball from a play on the wing. He sent the ball smartly across the box where Saloman Kalou waited unmarked to slide the ball past the Benfica keeper. Benfica were not about to sit back and defend a second goal. Almost immediately they were pressing up the pitch again to try and beat down the English giants and score a goal to make their looming task at Stamford Bridge less daunting.
David Luiz was a key factor to Chelsea’s clean sheet, as was Petr Cech. Despite conceding a goal, Benfica keeper Atur denied Chelsea multiple times and was able to keep the score line to just 1-0 despite his fractured and slightly disorganized defense on Chelsea attacks. Bruno Cesar was the main man creating opportunity for Benfica with the help of box-to-box midfielder Witsel but their effort were in vain and Chelsea have the valuable away goal advantage for the return leg in London.
APOEL 0-3 Real Madrid: APOEL were able to squeak into the quarter finals when they were the victors in a dramatic penalty shootout against Lyon. APOEL are surely little fish in a big pond as they struggle to stay alive in the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League but nine-time Champions are not about to let the little team from Cyprus interrupt them on their road to Munich.
APOEL were the first on the attack and Real Madrid goalkeeper Casillas was forced to make a creative clearance, saved only by the referees whistle. APOEL were dealt a huge blow in the 9th minute when Brazilian defender Olivera was carried off on a stretcher. Olivera was a key player in their eventual victory over Lyon and his presence was missed throughout the remainder of the match. Real Madrid dominated and created multiple opportunities with the Cyprus side hardly able to connect passes, let alone create attacking opportunities. Benzema had the best goal scoring opportunity in the first half in the 32nd minute when he found himself unmarked in front of a wide open goal, however he instead landed himself in the running for miss of the season as he somehow sent it flying over the crossbar. APOEL were able to hunker down and hold on despite the attacks and the scoreline at halftime was 0-0.
From the start of the second half, it was clear that Jose Mourinho had talked up his side during the halftime break. Ronaldo and Benzema were quick to start off the attack, but the effort went clear of the goal. APOEL threatened in the goal in the 58th minute with some great individual skill from Ailton. The front man dribbled his way through the Real Madrid defense and ended up forcing a free kick from the back line. As time ticked on, it looked as though APOEL might cause yet another embarrassing upset at the expense of a European giant, but Benzema finally found a breakthrough for Madrid in the 73rd minute after he dove to meet a cross from Kaka, sending it into the back of the net. A cheeky back heel from Ronaldo in the Real Madrid midfield opened up the APOEL defense for Kaka to put the ball past Chiotis, finishing off the Cyprus side. There would be one more goal from Karim Benzema to put the nail in the APOEL coffin in the last minute of play, making the final score 3-0.
Despite some fantastic play from Chiotis in the APOEL goal and Ailton up front, APOEL were just too far out of their league. Lack of Champions League experience made it difficult for the home side and few teams have been able to hold off the strong Real Madrid squad. Ronaldo and Kaka set up the goals, Kaka putting one in the back of the net himself and Benzema, after missing a wide open net, compensated by netting two. Real Madrid can sit back now for the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Wednesday March 28, 2012
Marseille 0-2 Bayern Munich: Bayern Munich were the dominant side, but Marseille found a considerable amount of holes in the Bayern defense, particularly on set pieces as the French side tried to keep their Champions League campaign alive. The Germans, coming off of a huge win against FC Basel in the round of sixteen, were careful not to concede in the first leg like they did in Basel. They were able to turn the tables in their favor thanks to some work from Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben.
The home side were the first to create a good opportunity, threatening Manuel Neuer in the seventh minute before his fellow keeper Elinton Adrande, who was standing in for the banned Steve Mandanda, was forced to make any saves on his end. However, the stand-in keeper was soon under siege as Bayern made consecutive attacks in the first half, even if it compromised their defense. Marseille were able to make some good chances on the counter attack but Neuer denied them a goal.
The first goal of the match was surrounded by much controversy as the ball fed through from the Bayern defense from captain Phillip Lahm appeared to be controlled with a hand before it was booted up the wing. Arjen Robben was there to collect the ball after the ref allowed play to continue and slotted it between the Marseille defense to a prowling Mario Gomez, who added to his impressive goal tally to make the score 1-0 to the guests just minutes before halftime. Critics argued that Adrande should have done better to prevent the goal from being scored. Despite his last defender jockeying for the ball with Gomez, Adrande came running out, leaving the far post completely exposed. Despite a questionable handball and questionable goalkeeping, the score line was 1-0 in the visitor’s favor at halftime.
The goal was a confidence boost for Bayern Munich. For most of the second half, they dominated in possession and chances on goal. The second goal from Munich really came out of nowhere as Arjen Robben seemed to run himself straight into two Marseille defenders but a cheeky give-and-go with Gomez allowed him to run right through the two defenders, collect the pass through while remaining onsides and putting it into the back of the net at the far post.
Standout performances came from Arjen Robben, who struggled to shine in the first leg of the last round against Basel. He was able to find his creative niche again as he danced up and down the flank of the pitch carrying the ball and creating multiple threats on goal. Mario Gomez added to his UEFA Champions League goal scoring tally with his 11th in the competition and was also a threatening presence as he prowled the inside of the Marseille box. Center midfielders David Alaba and Toni Kroos did their jobs to distribute and break up play and were continually the main reason for the Munich defense’s relaxed evening. Mathieu Valbuena came close to scoring in the second half and just minutes later Remy caught Jerome Boateng sleeping at the edge of the box but Neuer was able to deny Remy a goal.
AC Milan 0-0 Barcelona: Not many teams can say they kept a clean sheet against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League, but after convincing performances against them in the group stage and a dominant performance against Arsenal in the first leg of the round of sixteen, the Italian side were surely more suited to this fixture than some of the other quarter final teams.
Lionel Messi and Barcelona were unable to grab a valuable away goal. Going into the fixture as favorites, the Spanish side were looking for goals right off the bat, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the first to truly threaten the goal, forcing a great save from Victor Valdes. The Barcelona offense was sure to force some equally brilliant saves from Abiati at the other end.
Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, arguable the best strikers in the world, managed to create opportunities again and again. They were both standout players, but the goalkeepers and defenders were able to keep the ball out of the back of both nets. AC Milan defender Luca Antonini was voted player of the match for his heroic acrobatics to continually deny the Barcelona strikers from scoring.