woensdag 4 april 2012

Champion League

Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan 
Messi breaks tournament scoring record and Iniesta fires clincher as holders book last-four berth
The Argentine claimed the record for most goals in a single Champions League season, but the visitors will feel that refereeing decisions went against them at Camp Nou

Fabregas and Messi celebrates a goal - Barcelona-Ac Milan (Getty Images)

Barcelona have advanced to the Champions League semi-finals after a 3-1 win over AC Milan at Camp Nou in their quarter-final second-leg encounter.

Lionel Messi stole the headlines once again, with two penalties in the first half either side of an Antonio Nocerino strike, bringing him up to 14 Champions League goals for the season, a record for a single campaign. 

Andres Iniesta sealed the victory early in the second half, as the home side progressed to the last four for a record fifth straight year at the expense of the Italian champions, who will be left feeling aggrieved after some refereeing decisions did not go their way.
With a 0-0 result from the first leg under their belts, Milan knew that a score draw would be enough to take them through. Barca coach Pep Guardiola had already suggested that a Rossoneri goal was inevitable, and clearly set up to counter such an eventuality, with his side, and Messi in particular, dictating the opening exchanges.

A blistering counterattack after only four minutes saw the Barca forward glide into the penalty area in the blink of an eye, but his finish was put straight into the grateful arms of Christian Abbiati.

Moments later and Messi was at it again, this time poking the wrong side of the post after being put clean through by a beautiful piece of combination play from Cesc Fabregas and Dani Alves.

The Argentine sprinted clear of the Milan back line once more in the 11th minute, but initially appeared to waste the chance with a square pass to Xavi. However, the ball was soon back at his feet, and Luca Antonini, so assured in the first leg, slid in far too rashly, conceding a penalty.

Messi himself stepped up to take the spot-kick and made no mistake, beating Abbiati with a low shot into the left corner to score a record 13th Champions League goal of the season and 50th of his career.

The Rossoneri were nowhere to be found, and with Guardiola’s men dominating possession and looking eminently at ease, the tie seemed to be heading to an inevitable conclusion.

However, out of nowhere, Milan were level just after half an hour. Robinho found Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the top of the box, who in turn slid in the unmarked Nocerino on the left for a low finish past Victor Valdes to put the visitors ahead on aggregate.

Milan were heading through as things stood thanks to their away goal, but could only hold onto their advantage for nine minutes. From a corner, a tug on the shirt of Sergio Busquets by Alessandro Nesta was spotted, and referee Bjorn Kuipers awarded Barca another penalty, much to the chagrin of the Rossoneri players, who protested vehemently to the match official.

Messi steadied himself once more from the spot, this time sending the ball into the right corner to put the home side back in front with a 2-1 aggregate lead at the end of the first half.

Despite a promising start to the second period from Milan, the Catalans were able to increase their advantage within eight minutes of the restart. Iniesta was perhaps fortunate to see a block by Philippe Mexes loop into his path, but did not hesitate, and stroked home from six yards out.

The Rossoneri were floored by the goal, with Barca playing comfortably on the back of a two-goal cushion. They nearly added another just past the hour mark, as Messi played in substitute Thiago Alcantara for a shot that was dragged just wide.

At this point, the sting was well and truly taken out of the game, with the fans inside Camp Nou already looking forward to a place in the last four. Further half-chances for Adriano and Messi were foiled, but it mattered little as the home side ran out comfortable winners in the end.

Barca now advance to their fifth consecutive Champions League semi-final, a tournament record, and will face the winner of the Chelsea-Benfica tie, with the first leg set for April 18.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Olympique de Marseille 
Olic proves able deputy to absent Gomez as his double ensures semi-final spot for Bavarians
The veteran Croatia international struck twice as the German giants sealed a second-leg victory, booking their place in the last four of Europe's elite club competition

Bayern Muenchen v Olympique de Marseille, Olic

Bayern Munich advanced to the Champions League semi-finals following a 4-0 aggregate victory over Marseille. 

The German giants were in pole position to progress heading into the clash, having won the first leg 2-0 in France. And another 2-0 triumph in the return fixture saw them book their place in the last-four of Europe's elite club competition.

Ivica Olic, who two years ago scored a memorable hat-trick against Lyon, scored twice for Bayern before half-time, and his goals were all the hosts needed to advance.

The visitors made a bright start, and Loic Remy tested Manuel Neuer in the opening minutes after making a clever turn. Shortly thereafter, Benoit Cheyrou made an impressive run from deep and found Jeremy Morel, but the left-back's finish was kicked clear by the goalkeeper.

OM would rue their missed chances, as in the 13th minute, Olic opened the scoring. Franck Ribery made a mazy run into the right side of the box before crossing low, and the Croatian striker stabbed home from close range.

The visitors reacted well and continued their positive play, with Stephane Mbia's long-range blast forcing Neuer to tip over the bar. But Bayern gained full control of the match before the half-hour mark, as Toni Kroos and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk both forced fine saves from Steve Mandanda.

Thomas Muller, who before half-time was withdrawn due to an apparent hamstring injury, forced Mandanda into action on 30 minutes, with a glancing header, and Kroos shortly thereafter rattled the left post with another strong effort from outside the box.

Bayern kept up the pressure, and on 37 minutes, Olic completed his double on the counterattack. Ribery and David Alaba exchanged passes from deep in their own half before the Austrian crossed to Olic, who again finished from close range.

After the half-time break, the hosts stepped off the throttle as Marseille enjoyed more of the possession than before, but lacked incisiveness in the final third.

Ribery continued to be dangerous and forced a couple fine challenges to deny a look at goal before Kroos flashed another attempt narrowly wide. 

As the final quarter of the match approached, Marseille had their best chance of the game, but Brandao's open header from inside the six-yard box missed over the bar.

The Brazilian striker's attempt would be an anomaly, however, as the final 20 minutes had a training ground feel about them. This suited Kroos, who was substituted without having been booked, as well as Jerome Boateng and Luiz Gustavo, who also avoided bookings that would have seen them slapped with a ban.

The result sees Bayern advance to the semi-finals, where they will face the winner of Real Madrid's tie with APOEL. Marseille will have to focus on Ligue 1 play from now to season's end.


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