|The Road to Munich Continues...|
Barcelona proved why they are the defending champions as they faced off against Milan in Spain. After a scoreless first leg and a temporarily dangerous 1-1 score line the Spanish side put three past AC Milan and will face off against London side Chelsea in the semi finals. Chelsea had an unconvincing performance against a weakened Benfica side at Stamford Bridge and despite going through 3-1 on aggregate, they will need to step it up if they want to make it to the final in Munich. Real Madrid put a harsh end to the APOEL fairy tale, but the Cyprus side managed two goals against the Spanish giants and could surely go home with their heads held high. Bayern Munich continued to dominate in the competition with a 4-0 aggregate win against Marseille, not letting anyone get in their way of a spot in the final in their home stadium this May.
Tuesday April 3rd, 2012
Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan (301 agg): After a tight first leg that resulted in a 0-0 draw at the San Siro, Barcelona were looking for the goals in front of their home fans as they played AC Milan for the fourth time in the UEFA Champions League this season after meeting them in the group stage.
For the opening minutes, it looked as though the home side were going to be the first to concede. Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol at the back were forced to make some desperate tackles and even then Victor Valdes made his fair share of saves in the opening ten minutes. Barca’s first goal of the match was off of a penalty kick in the 9th minute after the Spanish side toyed with the Italian defense in their own box. Antonini came in too hard, catching Lionel Messi on the ankle and sending the Argentina striker to the ground. Messi finished the penalty kick with calmness and composure, kicking the ball right into the side netting and celebrating his fiftieth UEFA Champions League goal. AC Milan got level off of their first on target shot coming from Nocerino, who waited onside to make the perfect run onto a ball from Ibrahimovic and slide the ball into the far corner past Valdes. Barcelona were able to win another penalty kick after Busquets and Puyol appealed for the call due to pushing and shoving in the box on a corner kick. Lionel Messi converted yet again, sending Abiati the wrong way and slotting the ball into the side netting. Barcelona were back in front and were no longer facing the threat of losing out on a semi final spot on away goals.
The second half started off much like the first with Barcelona being the first team to defend a threat on their goal. The two sides were fairly even in their attempts on goal by the time Barcelona’s third came in the 53rd minute from Andres Iniesta. The Spaniards strike was the last one of the game to find the back of the net. Ibrahimovic, Boateng and the rest of the AC Milan attack played hard to try and score the vital goal, but they were unsuccessful in breaking past the strong Barca defense. On the other end, Milan were able to hold off the Barcelona attack and the match ended 3-1.
Bayern Munich 2-0 Olimpique Marseille (4-0 agg) After a 7-0 smashing of Swiss side Basel in the round of sixteen and a strong showing against Marseille against Marseille on their home turf in Germany, Bayern Munich look to be the team to beat as they fight for their spot in the UEFA Champions League final in their own stadium, the Allianz Arena, this May.
Bayern were on the attack early on, not taking any comfort in their 2-0 away goal advantage. Thanks to some wonderful individual brilliance from Franck Ribery and a great finish from Olic, Bayern Munich were in front by the 13th minute. Ribery was able to break through the scattered Marseille defense and Olic made a brilliantly timed run onto the ball. Bayern were ahead and Marseille faced a daunting task of needing to score at least three goals against the solid German defense if they wished to go through to the semi finals. In the 36th minute, the young Austrian David Alaba and Olic would find the back of the net again for Bayern. The play started with a beautiful overlapping run from left back Alaba as he and Ribery rushed down the field at the French defense. Olic got on the end of the cross as Bayern went in for the kill, taking the 4-0 aggregate lead over Marseille. In the 38th minute, Muller was subbed off for Rafinha after he appeared to pull up lame, complaining of a hamstring injury. He was rested, but Bayern didn’t need any more attacking power as they went into the half with the 4-0 aggregate lead.
Bayern were able to relax in the second half, holding a deep back line and letting the French side press them a little more, forcing a save or two from Neuer, but the German keeper had a relatively quiet remainder of the evening. Despite the 50/50 possession, Bayern looked to be the better side, building the attack and capitalizing on the chances that they made for themselves in the first half and sitting back with all hands on deck to defend in the second. Marseille pressed the goal and managed to push up without getting caught on a quick counter attack by the German side, but they were unable to find the back of the net and get themselves on the 4-0 aggregate scoreline. Bayern were the clear victors at the end of the day and continued their quest for a spot in the Champions League final in their home stadium.
Wednesday April 4th, 2012
Chelsea 2-1 Benfica (3-1 agg): Chelsea barely earned themselves a spot in the quarter finals after a dramatic overtime goal from Ivanovic, but their victory against Group C winners Benfica was more convincing. The London side went through after a slightly nervy second leg at Stamford Bridge when Benfica got level on away goals. Chelsea needed to produce the goals on their home turf and they did just that as the Di Matteo transformation continued and the English club marched on to the semi finals.
Benfica were on the attack quickly in the first half, but David Luiz was quick to help break it up but only temporarily. Benfica were in possession for the first part of the half, winning a corner kick by the third minute. Chelsea were the first to get on the score line again despite the possessive play of the Portuguese side. In the 21st minute, Ashley Cole was brought down inside the box and Chelsea were awarded a penalty kick. Veteran Frank Lampard took the kick, putting barely enough pace on the ball to send it under the body of Artur. From that point on, Chelsea were the possessive and dominant team. Benfica had their fair share of possession, but the London side were confident in their lead and broke up the Benfica play calmly. Chelsea had the 2-0 aggregate lead at the half.
The second half saw split possession and nearly identical attacks from both sides. Chelsea and Benfica had their fair share of chances on goal as well as some good pieces of defending, but it would take forty minutes and numerous attacks on the goal for one of the teams to find the back of the net in the second half. In the 85th minute, Javi Garcia grabbed a valuable away goal with a brilliant header from a corner kick, beating Petr Cech and the sloppy Chelsea defense. The visiting side needed just one more goal and they would go through on away goals. The goal was bound to come after back to back attempts from the Portuguese side. Chelsea’s attacking force had been dominant for most of the second half, and they were not about to give up their spot in the semi finals due to conceding away goals. In stoppage time, Portuguese player and former Porto midfielder Raul Meireles cemented his sides semi final spot and settled the nerves with a fantastic strike past Artur, giving Chelsea the final 3-1 aggregate lead.
Real Madrid 5-2 APOEL (8-2 agg): Despite two dream goals for APOEL at the Santiago Bernabeu in Soccer City Madrid, the fairytale came to a close for the small club from Nicosia, Cyprus. The home side were the obvious victors and dominated the small side from the Mediterranean island but APOEL had their moments of brilliance, including two smart goals against one of the best sides in Europe.
Real Madrid established their dominance on their home turf early on in the first half of the match. Ronaldo came close to scoring the opener at the Bernabeu after a defensive blunder from APOEL but his effort was stopped by Pardo in the visitor’s goal. Real Madrid’s first goal of the match game from some lovely play from the attacking portion of the Madrid starting eleven before Cristiano Ronaldo put it in the back of the net from short range. The second goal from Madrid came from some individual brilliance by Brazilian striker Ricardo Kaka, who sent his shot from just outside the box curling around the keepers hands and into the top corner of the far post. At half time, Real Madrid were comfortably ahead and didn’t look to be in any position to give away the match to the underdogs as they were applauded off by the happy home fans.
The Cyprus side showed a little more in the second half but it was still very much the home side’s game. APOEL ‘s miracle came in the 68th minute when Gustavo Manduca found the back of the net for the visiting team. Without a doubt, it was too little too late and Cristiano Ronaldo confirmed Real Madrid’s superiority with his first free kick goal of the season, sending a world class, curling shot past the arms of Pardo in the 75th minute. In the 80th minute, Jose Callejon scored another for Madrid and the Spanish side knew that they were marching on to the semi finals. APOEL’s second goal was a cooly finished penalty kick from Solari after the kick was won by Adorno after he was taken down, but questionably fouled, inside the box by the Real Madrid defense. Angel Di Maria topped off Madrid’s victory with a cheeky little flick over the top of the APOEL keeper’s head. The young winger received the ball at the top of the box, looked up to see Pardo off of his line and chipped him neatly to make the final score 8-2.