woensdag 3 april 2013

Champions League Report

Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 Barcelona
Last-gasp Valdes error keeps French side alive
Lionel Messi scored before succumbing to injury at half-time, and Xavi's late penalty appeared to seal the French side's fate, but Matuidi's even later strike leaves the tie open

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, centre, escapes Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi, left, and Alex, during their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on Tuesday. 

 Two late, late goals saw Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain play out an enthralling 2-2 draw during the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.

Tito Vilanova returned to the Blaugrana dugout for the first time in months after undergoing cancer treatment in New York, but his long-awaited comeback was tainted somewhat by the departure of Lionel Messi during half-time with a hamstring injury.

But the Argentine still managed to make his mark on the game before his withdrawal, slotting home from a glorious Dani Alves assist to give Barca a narrow lead at the interval, after PSG were the more threatening side during the first 45 minutes.

The French side would controversially find a way back into the tie in the 79th minute when Zlatan Ibrahimovic turned home a rebound from an offside position, but their fortune was short-lived as Xavi scored a late penalty on the stroke of injury time.

But the drama was not done, as Blaise Matuidi struck with the last kick of the game, leaving it all to play for during the second-leg at Camp Nou in eight days' time.

David Beckham was handed a start for the hosts with Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi also making a swift return to their XI. Meanwhile, Victor Valdes, Jordi Alba and Xavi were restored to the visitors’ starting lineup after missing out over the weekend.

Whatever nerves PSG may have felt from the indomitable reputation of their opponents were quickly shaken off during an energetic start to the match, where they could have taken the lead twice inside the opening 20 minutes.

Lavezzi was first up with a deflected effort that cannoned off the far post, before Ibrahimovic forced a world-class save from Valdes, who saw his free-kick late after it was hammered through the wall.

Barca were not without their own early opportunities, as Andres Iniesta missed by inches with a curling shot, but it was PSG who looked like prime candidates to break the deadlock, as Javier Pastore’s 25-yarder called Valdes into action again.

But PSG could not build on their positive start, and as the first-half went on, their counterattacking threat diminished as Barca’s tiki-taka football became more of a feature.

And they were made to pay for their lack of ruthlessness five minutes before half time as Messi, anonymous until that point, drilled home from an absolutely breathtaking outside-of-the-boot pass from Alves.

The Argentine could have made it 2-0 minutes later, but could not keep his shot down after racing into a fantastic position inside the area.

And that would end up being Messi’s last notable contribution of the match, as a suspected hamstring complaint forced him off during the break, with Cesc Fabregas replacing him for the second period.

But in sharp contrast to the start of the match, the second-half saw PSG struggle to get into their stride as the tempo of the game dropped markedly.

Sergio Busquets’s long range shot was smothered convincingly by Salvatore Sirigu, and Alexis Sanchez’s poor first touch denied him a clear opening inside the box as Barca just about seemed to have the upper hand.

With 11 minutes remaining, Ibrahimovic would drag PSG back into the tie in contentious fashion, as he turned home a rebound from an offside position after Thiago Silva’s header took a ricochet off the post.

But in the 90th minute, their joy turned to despair as a moment of rashness from Sirigu sent Sanchez tumbling inside the area, leaving the referee with no choice, and Xavi stepped up to bury the resulting penalty.

It seemed like the end of PSG's European ambitions for another season, but with the last kick of the game, Matuidi managed to squeeze a shot past Valdes to blow the roof of the stadium and give the French side reason to believe.

 Bayern Munich 2-0 Juventus
Alaba & Muller net as German giants produce dominant display
Jupp Heynckes' men have one foot in the final four after dominating their quarter-final first-leg clash with the Italian champions from start to finish

FC Bayern Munich vs Juventus  

 Bayern Munich took a significant step towards the semi-finals of the Champions League with a commanding 2-0 first-leg success over a strangely subdued Juventus side at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday evening.

After opening the scoring inside a minute courtesy of a deflected drive from David Alaba, the runaway Bundesliga leaders dominated what many felt would be the most closely contested of the four quarter-finals and were full value for a victory which was deservedly capped by a second-half strike from Thomas Muller.

Bayern had gone into the game on the back of a devastating 9-2 domestic defeat of Hamburg but even they could not have imagined that they would open the scoring against the tightest defence in the Champions League with such ease.

Less than 25 seconds had elapsed when an uncharacteristically sloppy pass from Andrea Pirlo allowed Bastian Schweinsteiger to put Alaba into space some 35 yards out. Even then, there appeared to be little threat to the Juventus goal, but the Austria international’s subsequent strike took a slight deflection off Vidal that deceived Gianluigi Buffon, who, having inexplicably committed himself to a dive to his right, was unable to scramble back across his line to keep out a bouncing ball that was not travelling at any great pace.

Credit to the visitors, they responded well to the concession of such an early goal, and Pirlo fired a free kick just over the Bayern bar seconds before midfield partner Vidal flashed a well-struck shot inches wide as the Bianconeri enjoyed a brief spell of dominance.

The loss of Toni Kroos to injury after 16 minutes appeared further cause for concern for Bayern but the introduction of Arjen Robben coincided with a sustained spell of pressure for the hosts, with the Dutchman very nearly doubling his side’s advantage with a snapshot volley that Buffon did well to block with his feet.

Franck Ribery then saw a low strike unluckily deflected wide by Bonucci, after the industrious Mario Mandzukic had brilliantly dispossessed a sleeping Andrea Barzagli, before Robben squandered another excellent opening on 32 minutes, dragging Muller's terrific cut-back wide of the right post with the entire goal at his mercy.

Juve served a timely reminder of their set-piece threat just before the break when Giorgio Chiellini headed a Pirlo corner just over, but it was clear that the Bianconeri, who had not managed a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, would need a drastically improved second-half showing if they were to save an unbeaten away record in European competition that stretched back to 2010.

As it was, Bayern continued to carry the far greater attacking threat and Mandzukic tested Buffon with a low strike after being released into space by Schweinsteiger. The crucial second goal that Bayern undeniably deserved arrived just after the hour mark.

Again, there was some fortune involved. Mandzukic was offside when Luiz Gustavo hit a shot that Buffon was unable to hold, but the hosts deserved their good luck and Mandzukic had to be applauded for the way in which he coolly collected the rebound before leaving Muller with a tap-in.

The beleaguered Bianconeri managed to muster a shot on goal in the final quarter, with Manuel Neuer easily parrying a Vidal shot away to safety, but Muller very nearly added a third Bayern goal at the end of what was already a bitterly disappointing night for the Italians. They must now attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit in the second leg without Vidal and Stephan Lichsteiner, both of whom where booked in Bavaria. 


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