donderdag 5 april 2012

Champions League

Real Madrid 5-2 APOEL 
Stunning Ronaldo free kick the highlight as Mourinho's men book semifinal clash with Bayern Munich
There was to be no miracle for the Cypriot side, as a dominant performance from Mourinho's men saw them march into the next round.

Real Madrid can boast the highest-scoring trio in Spanish football's history as the Spanish club strolled into the Champions League semifinals with an absorbing 5-2 victory over APOEL in their second-leg encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema have now scored 101 goals between them in the 2011-12 season, beating the 100 goal mark of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry, set during Barcelona's treble winning campaign of 2009-10. 

It was an enticing game from start to finish, with a brace from Ronaldo, alongside further strikes from Kaka, Jose Callejon and Angel Di Maria doing the buisness for the hosts, who ended the fairytale run of the brave outfit from Cyprus with an 8-2 aggregate scoreline. 

However, Jose Mourinho will no doubt be frustrated with two lapses in concentration that allowed Gustavo Manduca to finish off a great APOEL move, before Esteban Solari struck from the spot after an infraction by Hamit Altintop. 
With a 3-0 deficit to overcome after the first leg, APOEL was always going to need a near miracle to progress, particularly against a Madrid team in imperious form in Europe. The Spanish outfit had won eight of its nine matches on the continent this season while conceding only four times, the lowest in the competition.

Indeed, Mourinho’s men picked up where they left off after the initial encounter in Cyprus, unsurprisingly dominating play right from the start of the match.

Higuain nodded a Ronaldo cross off target. Ronaldo was blocked expertly by Urko Pardo from point-blank range, all in the first five minutes.

APOEL’s threat was non-existent as the club kept every man behind the ball inside its own half, with the tie already looking like an exercise in damage limitation as Madrid continued to press forward.

Ronaldo sent a towering header just over the bar from Nuri Sahin’s free kick with 20 minutes gone, but the Portuguese forward would not be denied much longer, as six minutes later, he turned home a teasing cross by Marcelo at the far post to score his 48th goal of the season.

Ten minutes later, and Madrid was 2-0 in front after a goal of undeniable quality from Kaka. The Brazilian received a pass from compatriot Marcelo 25 yards from goal and took one touch before unleashing an unstoppable shot that bent past the helpless Pardo into the top corner.

It was one-way traffic in the direction of the visitors’ goal, and Kaka nearly repeated the trick four minutes before halftime with another attempt from distance, but this time sent his shot just the wrong side of the post.

Madrid took its foot off the gas coming out of the interval, with APOEL well and truly floored by the 5-0 aggregate score. The home side saw a succession of efforts fly harmlessly off target as it seemed content to stay in cruise control.

APOEL gained some encouragement from the lethargic play of the hosts, and managed to grab itself consolation with a well worked goal after 67 minutes. Some slick interplay in the Madrid half ended with a clever reverse pass from Ailton to Manduca, who coolly sidefooted home to send the away fans into raptures.

However, Ronaldo brought the visitors back down to earth with a stunning set piece with quarter of an hour to go. Taking aim from a tricky angle on the left side of the box, the Portugese sent the ball past the despairing fingertips of Pardo into the top corner for his first goal direct from a free-kick this season.

Halftime substitute Callejon got in on the act in the 80th minute, smashing home Di Maria’s pass at the near post for the home side’s fourth.

Madrid was breached once again within two minutes though, after a foul by Altintop was spotted by the referee, allowing Solari the chance to beat Iker Casillas with a composed finish from the spot.

Di Maria was able to add further gloss to the scoreline in the 84th minute with an impudent chip over Pardo, after sprinting in unopposed from midfield.

The match ended frantically as Di Maria and Solari both went close, but the result was never in doubt as the home side finished with confidence.

Madrid marches into an enticing semifinal matchup against Bayern Munich, with the first leg set to be played on April 17 at the Allianz Arena in Germany.

Chelsea 2-1 Benfica
Lampard & Meireles on target as Blues set up Champions League semi-final date with Barcelona
Chelsea managed to qualify for the last four of the Champions League, but there were a few scary moments for the Stamford Bridge faithful as Javi Garcia scored late on

A penalty by Frank Lampard and a strike by Raul Meireles deep into injury-time helped Chelsea secure a Champions League semi-final place. But their evening was not without a scare after Javi Garcia’s late goal nearly cost the English side against Benfica.

The victory over the Portuguese outfit sees Chelsea continue on the path towards the final in Munich, but they must first overcome the large roadblock of defending champions Barcelona.

Roberto Di Matteo opted to make two changes from the first leg triumph in Lisbon, bringing back Branislav Ivanovic and Lampard in place of Paulo Ferreira and Raul Meireles, while Michael Essien and Didier Drogba were left on the bench.

His opposite number Jorge Jesus decided to give starts to former Stamford Bridge fringe-player Nemanja Matic and former Spanish international full back Joan Capdevila, who replaced injured duo Luisao and Jardel.

Chelsea found themselves on the back foot early on in the game as Benfica looked to level the tie early on, with Nicolas Gaitan posing the threat down the left wing, but the Blues defence stood firm to protect both Petr Cech and their first leg lead.

The home side were given a golden opportunity to take the lead as Ashley Cole broke into the box and was cruelly barged down by Javi Garcia, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot. Damir Skomina showed a yellow card to Benfica skipper Maxi Pereira, which would cost the full back later on.

That allowed Lampard to drive the ball under the outstretched arms of Artur and into the back of the net to give Di Matteo’s side a comfortable two-goal lead on aggregate.

Midway through the first half, David Luiz attempted one trick too many and allowed Gaitan to race forward, but the Argentinian midfielder’s cross was blocked by John Terry.

The Chelsea skipper came to the rescue again a minute later after a good move from a free kick found Axel Witsel at the back post and he knocked it down for Oscar Cardozo, who was free on the penalty spot, but his drive towards goal was cleared by Terry on the line.

Five minutes before the break, things went from bad to worse for the Portuguese outfit as Pereira was shown his second yellow card of the evening for a lunge on John Obi Mikel, leaving his side left to play out the rest of the match with 10 men.  

The visitors came out with a purpose for the second half and were nearly rewarded straight away as a slick passing move saw the ball arrive at the feet of Cardozo, but his strike was superbly tipped round the post by Chelsea stopper Cech.

Di Matteo’s side should have wrapped up the game as they broke down the left-hand side of the penalty area, with Salomon Kalou leaving Ramires with a mere tap-in from a yard out but the Brazilian midfielder somehow failed to convert.

The English side continued to search out the goal that would ultimately kill the game off as a contest, with both Juan Mata and Torres having strikes on goal within seconds of each other, but neither could find a way past Artur.

Benfica nearly claimed a goal back as the Chelsea defence seemed to fall asleep, allowing the ball to eventually find substitute Yannick Djalo, but his striker from just inside the area was blocked by the home defence and went out for a corner.

Mata could have finished off the game Kalou picked out his bursting run into the box, but the Spanish midfielder’s strike could only go across the face of Artur’s goal and out for a goal kick.

After so many missed chances, the Stamford Bridge faithful must have feared the worst when a corner from the left wing in the 85th minute found Javi Garcia free in front of goal and he headed the ball into the back of the net to give Benfica a glimmer of hope.

But with Benfica moving everyone forward, the Blues broke and substitute Raul Meireles unleashed an unstoppable strike to send Chelsea into the semi-final stage of the Champions League.


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