FOX Soccer Exclusive
Barca, Bayern move closer to semis
Barcelona took a small step into the UEFA Champions League semifinals Tuesday night in Paris, getting a 2-2 draw – and two very valuable away goals – against Paris Saint-Germain. But the Catalan giants will be left to rue what they lost here; they twice coughed up a lead, looked uncomfortable on set pieces, and saw their talisman, Lionel Messi, trudge off with an injury to his right hamstring.
The severity of Messi’s injury is unknown at this time. The team released a statement saying only that the Argentine would have further tests on Wednesday. If he cannot recover in time for next week’s return leg at Camp Nou, the Catalans could well be in trouble. PSG were the better team for large spells of Tuesday’s match and it could be argued that were they a more mentally experienced side, they might have come away with a famous upset.
"In the first half, especially in the first 10 minutes, we had a few very good chances and if we'd have put one of those away it might have been different," PSG midfielder David Beckham told ITV1 after the match. "Then obviously they got their goal, then it was an uphill battle, but I think we deserved the draw tonight."
Messi opened the scoring after Barcelona weathered a wave of Parisian pressure. Twice the French giants rattled the woodwork, and Victor Valdes was forced into making more stops than he was comfortable with. Lucas Moura was a constant threat down the middle, and Barcelona looked very susceptible to straight balls right down the gut. PSG’s game plan was simple: absorb then break with pace, leveraging Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s size and technique to draw defenders away.
But one sublime pass from Daniel Alves changed the game, opening up a can’t-miss chance for Messi that he indeed did not. That deflated PSG’s faithful and it was not until Messi’s removal over the interval – and manager Carlo Ancelotti’s gamble to introduce Kevin Gameiro, Jeremy Menez and Marco Verratti in a wave – did PSG look like they could change the equation.
Of course, it fell to Ibrahimovic, the one-time Barcelona star who has become their part-time tormentor. He latched on to a rebound off the post from Thiago Silva’s header to tuck it past Valdes from a clearly offside position. Everyone saw it, save for our officials, led by Wolfgang Stark. The goal stood.
Barcelona thought they had the game won when PSG keeper Salvatore Sirigu foolishly swatted at Alexis Sánchez’s toes inside the box. It was needless – Sánchez’ had been forced wide – and it allowed Xavi Hernández to calmly sink the winner. Or so we thought.
Deep in stoppage time, Blaise Matuidi, with the final touch of the game, slammed the ball off Valdes’ palm and into the back of the net. It was a dreadful gaffe from the keeper, who was put off position by a mild deflection, which will give Ancelotti’s side hope and an opportunity to wonder what might have been.
Tuesday’s other quarterfinal clash, between Bayern Munich and Juventus, unfolded more or less as you would have expected: Juve defended a lot and Bayern attacked a lot more.
Just 30 seconds in, Bayern’s David Alaba took an audacious shot from some 35 yards out, which nicked Arturo Vidal and hopped past Gigi Buffon and into the far corner of the goal to put the Germans ahead.
Bayern was wholly and utterly dominant from then on, creating a solid chance every few minutes or so. Juve predictably sat back and defended, but in its 3-5-2 formation, its signature counter-attacks lacked venom as the opposing wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben (who quickly came on for the injured Toni Kroos) pinned back their flanks. On an off-night by Juve playmaker Andrea Pirlo, who was swallowed whole by his opposing numbers Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo, this all conspired to give the Italians only a tiny share of the midfield action.
So Bayern ran rampant, setting up camp in Juve’s half. They were denied a penalty or two and all that stood between them and a monster score was the heroic, and barely legal, defending by stalwarts Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci and goalkeeper Buffon. In the 63rd minute, none of them could keep Bayern from getting a second, however. Mario Mandzukic was a fraction offside when he pounced on the rebound of Gustavo’s sizzling shot from distance. But he was allowed to collect it all the same, and he wisely squared it for the onrushing Thomas Muller, who tapped into an open net from no further than a foot.
In spite of failing to run up the score, Bayern kept the all-important 2-0 clean sheet at home. Heading to Turin next week, the second leg should be a formality in Bayern's ongoing march to redeem last year's lost final.
''It was a good game from us but we're not through (to the semifinal) yet,'' Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said. ''Juventus are a top team and next week we'll have to deliver the same performance as tonight.''
FOX Soccer’s Leander Schaerlackens contributed to this story.
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