It was all to play for at the Camp Nou tonight as two of the continent’s heavyweights clashed with a place in the semi-finals within reach.
Are we all present? Then let’s begin, shall we? We’re high in the stands of the Camp N… no we’re in the office in front of the Sky box; but the football is no less mouth-watering. Barcelona go into a second leg having been held 0-0 in the first half. It’s something Messi, Xavi et al have never experienced before. Milan will be led in the cauldron by Zlatan, Pep Guardiola’s bete noire, while the Serie A side’s midfield will have to work even harder than last week’s tie at the San Siro.
Does anyone fancy them to do it? Let’s have your predictions, internet.
Pep has just handed us his team-sheets and is looking dapper as always. Here are your line-ups.
Barca: Valdes; Dani Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol; Xavi , Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Fabregas, Cuenca. Subs: Pinto, Sanchez, Keita, Alcantara, Pedro, Adriano, Tello.
Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Mexes, Antonini; Nocerine, Ambrosini, Boateng, Seedorf; Robinho, Zlatan. Subs: Amelia, Pato, Aquilani, Lopez, Bonera, Emmanuelson, Yepes.
Ray Wilkins just said ‘George Best was Northern Irish, unfortunately’. If Butch is on Twitter, he might want to turn the phone off til the morning. The Sky Sports panel were talking in the context of Leo Messi’s place in football’s pantheon. “I used to admire Best very much, Graeme, and if he was English he would have had world renown,” said Ray.
Tonight’s showdown in Barcelona is not the only top, top* European action, of course. Marseille are in Munich, chasing a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in France last week. Good luck with that chaps.
*trademark, Mr J Redknapp.
The teams are in the tunnel, which is unusually quiet. There’s none of the usual happy introductions and greetings between old team-mates (Zlatan, Leo, I’m looking at you). Carles Puyol is the sole loud voice as he gees up his side in the final moments before their introduction into that wonderful arena.
And we’re off. The Barcelona fans have come out in numbers, according to Alan Smith.
Thanks. For. That.
Iniesta has had the first shot on goal… but it came off his shin and dribbled wide. The move started after a mistake from Nesta gave away possession cheaply and when Alves got forward, as he likes too, and played it inside for the Spain midfielder who was in a bit of space.
This is end-to-end already. Nocerine found himself at the Barca back post in possession, he drove in a dangerous cross but it was cut out and the home side moved the ball quickly into the Milan half. Messi ultimately danced in front of the away defence and fired a low shot at goal which was saved. We’re five minutes in.
‘He is human’ screams the Sky commentator as Messi squeezes the ball wide. His latest effort was the final stroke in a gorgeous move; Alves played the ball in from the right, Fabregas dinked it first time for the Argentine but, with the angle tightening, he couldn’t find the net.
Penalty to Barcelona! AC Milan shot themselves in the foot there with some sloppy play and in the end Antonini slid in on Messi.
GOAL! Messi — who else — puts the home side in the lead with a typically cool spot kick. AC Milan have to come out and play a bit now but Barcelona look a class apart so far. What do you think?
Elsewhere, I should tell you, Marseille’s European season is coming to a close. Olic has opened the scoring at the wonderful Allianz Arena and Bayern Munich are now three up on aggregate. I think the Germans will win the whole thing this year, for what it’s worth. there, I said it. Olic could well face Richard Dunne in Poznan this summer.
We’re coming up to the midway point in the first half and Barca are well on top. Fabregas (remember him?) almost weaseled himself inside the Milan defence but they’re holding it together.. for now. Rio Ferdinand is tweeting from a hot tub in Cheshire that the away side have a goal in them. He’s probably right, as they’ve looked dangerous at times on the counter, but can they stop the La Liga champions scoring again?
It’s all a bit tippy-tapp now, Jeff. The home side have settled into their usual hypnotic, metronomic passing patterns and Milan are pegged back in their own half. There was some more explosive stuff moments ago when Dani Alves again stormed down his flank, cut through two defenders and clattered into Abbiati, as the goalkeeper came quickly from his line.
GOAL! Milan equalise through Antonio Nocerino and the Italians are in the driving seat. Game on, Ger!
So we have at least an hour of football intrigue ahead, ladies and gentlemen. To use a cliche, Barcelona seemed to have taken the foot off the gas somewhat after that opener and Robinho took advantage as he picked out his teammate Nocerino, who was played onside; he made no mistake in drilling it past the Barca ‘keeper. If it stays like this of course, the Nou Camp will not see European football again this season. Elsewhere, Bayern are now 4-0 up over two legs as that Croatian blast from the past, Olic, has again scored.
PENALTY! Nesta is booked for shirt-pulling and you’d have to say, the ref is brave to give that.
GOAL! Messi goes to the other side but it’s the same result. ‘That’s a gift’ says Smudger, and he’s not wrong. There’s 42 minutes on the clock now and the pendulum has swung back for the home side. If Milan do get to the semi-final stage, they’ll do so without Nesta who will be suspended while Seedorf picked up a yellow of his own for arguing the point with the ref.
HALF-TIME Well, for all the talent on show, you get the feeling it’ll be the referee we’ll be talking about during the interval.
So was that a spotter?
So the player’s are back on the pitch, I’ve had my half-time Jaffa Cakes and we’re strapped in for the next 45.
We’re not the only ones intrigued by this second half. One Brian O’Driscoll is on the couch. “Barca always get the full 90 watch. Not many I’d say that about,” the Ireland skipper tweets. As I type, Xavi had Abbiati scurrying across his goal with a free-kick that flashed just wide.
A Brucie bonus; can you tell me who this lady on the left is?
GOAL! Iniesta scores for Barca to make it 3-1.
So Barca are now well and truly on top, with 54 minutes on the clock. But as a great man once sang: how did we get here? Well, it started with Messi; he drove forward and when his shot was blocked it fell to Iniesta to the left of the goal. Unsurprisingly, the clipped it home. It’s still 2-0 in Munich by the way.
Clarence Seedorf trots off after the obligatory hour… and that could be that for the Dutch legend in the Champions League you suspect. Seconds later, Robinho looks to have gone through after he charges down a Pique clearance but he blasts at the ‘keeper and is then called back for handball anyway. As I type, Xavi is given a standing O for his efforts, with Thiago filling in. It’s all happening.
Thiago misses a sitter and the chance to turn the lights out on an Milan team that seem to be punched out at this stage. Meanwhile in Munich, according to Skysportsmobile, “Free header for Brandao but he plants it over the bar – proper stinker”. Dear me.
Adriano is on for the last 15 minutes or so to replace Pique who’s picked up a knock. Milan need to step it up here. As I type, Iniesta absolutely dances around the pitch, looking for a ball, before he’s clattered by Robinho of all people.
Pato is off with seven minutes or so to go, having seemingly picked up an injury since his introduction. On comes former Barcelona forward Maxi Lopez.
AC Milan are out on their feet and with three minutes or so to run out, Barcelona will again be in this year’s Champions League semi-finals. Messi almost added a fourth but Nesta launched a last-ditch clearance and moments later Adriano went through on goal but screwed the ball wide. Not that it matters in truth.
It’s all over in Munich and after another 2-0 win over Marseille, Bayern will face Real in a mouth-watering semi-final, an APOEL miracle tomorrow night not withstanding.
And that’s all she wrote at the Camp Nou too. Barcelona are in the final four for the fifth year on the trot. Zlatan looks like he’s going to put someone’s head through the dressing-room door. Seedorf is on the sideline clapping his team-mates off the pitch while Mess et al are congratulating each other on a job well done.
So, what did you think of that? Can anyone stop them?
Souness reckons Nesta defends like he’s almost finished his career, he cuts corners and pulls people’s jerseys because he doesn’t want to put his head where he might get an elbow.
There’s actually a pretty interesting discussion on Sky between Redknapp, Wilkins and Souey about the way to take on Barcelona. Butch brings the perspective who was on the bench as Chelsea were ‘annihilated’ but then eliminated midfield and lumped it forward to Drogba.
For a man that just accused Nesta of lazy defending, Souness seems to have clocked off early. He’s reverted to national stereotype in looking towards the tournament finale (the Germans believe in themselves) and superstition (maybe it’s written in the stars, as the decider is in Munich). Nevertheless, we’ll be tuned into RTE tomorrow for another night of European football. Do joins us then, and keep the comments coming.