Wednesday drama knocks back giants
Basel recorded a famous win over Bayern Munich tonight at St. Jakob’s with two subs combing for a late winner. Jacques Zoua’s pass to Valentin Stocker gave the Swiss minnows a massive 1-0 win that will surely give the Bavarians indigestion.
And in a game nearly devoid of chances, Olympique Marseille snatched a late winner through Andre Ayew to take a 1-0 win over Inter Milan. The French side have been very solid on the road, and Inter now have it all to do at the San Siro on March 13th.
Finally, in the other European game of the day, Manchester City eliminated the defending Europa League champions with a muscular 4-0 win (6-1 on aggregate). Kun Aguero scored the second-fastest goal ever in the tournament when Yaya Toure latched on to a slack pass, threaded the needle between the central defenders and sent Aguero in free to slam home the winner after only 23 seconds.
Featuring four teams in various states of disarray, few expected thrills in tonight’s Champions League games. Frankly, more folks paid more attention to the action at the Eastlands, despite that being a “runner’s up” tournament. The "main event" matches were supposed to be yawners.
Someone forgot to tell Heiko Vogel.
Vogel’s tactical brilliance and his confident, swashbuckling Basel team stormed out of the gates and delivered a big hit to Bayern Munich’s Champions League aspirations. Munich is to host the final this May, and it has been clear for some time that the Bavarian giants are getting nervous about their team’s hopes. On the evidence, they should be. Tonight, their famous defensive organization deserted them, and the absences of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Daniel van Buyten to long-term injuries were keenly felt.
Basel showed no fear at all, running Marco Streller and Alexander Frei right up the gut and getting Xherdan Shaqiri to provide service from wide. In the back, Basel relied on their rock-solid keeper, Yann Sommer, and burly central defender Markus Steinhofer to deflect the ambitions of Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez.
What resulted was a wide-open first half with great saves by Sommer and chances at both ends. Basel hit the woodwork twice and had the ball cleared off the line once. Bayern saw Sommer stifle Gomez, Franck Ribery, and a swerving strike from David Alaba. It was breathless, and it was outstanding entertainment.
But Basel couldn’t keep up the pace, and a clearly unsettled Jupp Heynckes moved to clamp down in midfield after the break when he ran in sub Thomas Mueller on for Robben. Bayern would enjoy 40 minutes of possession, but their attacks were lifeless and predictable. Time and again, Phillip Lahm would serve the ball in from the flank, and just as often, Basel would nod it away.
It was somewhat delicious that the winner came when Bayern’s defense broke down. Zoua was allowed to move right to left in Robben-esque fashion then pierce the high back line to feed Stocker. When Stocker shot nutmegged Manuel Neuer, it was game over. So shaken were Bayern that Basel might have nicked a second, but Vogel played it safe.
The recriminations in Germany will be bitter. They will also be over-the-top, and we cannot help but wonder if the team’s habitual over-reaction to setback is playing a role in their current form.
In our other match, for over 90 minutes Olympique Marseille was taught a lesson. Inter Milan team totally stifled the French team’s attack and spent large portions of the match in complete control. And then, Inter lost.
Led by evergreen Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder, Inter called the tune in a slow-paced, turgid match that always looked like a goalless draw. Indeed, it must be said that Inter’s unwillingness to commit enough resources forward cost them a potential away win.
Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate were isolated up top for Inter, but by holding the ball well, they effectively forced Marseille to defend with numbers. When Inter did support, their final pass was not sharp enough. Forlan actually had the best chance early in the match when he chased down a route one clearance and forced a good save from Steve Mandanda.
At the other end, Julio Cesar was rarely tested at all, with Marseille unable to string passes together and spending far too much time staring at an eight-man Inter back wall which was poised and letter-perfect. The French team looked short of ideas and painfully slow. The talented Mathieu Valbuena was snuffed out and what passed for chances — Andre Ayew headers on crosses from Morgan Amalfitano — would not have been noticed on any other night.But at the end, all fell apart for Claudio Ranieri’s men.
Julio Cesar was forced to concede a corner three minutes into stoppage time. Valbuena delivered it onto the head of Ayew, and the Ghanaian international made no mistake with a powerful finish.
Against the run of play? For sure.
But decisive? That remains to be seen. Inter must now host a team that did not lose an away match in the group stage. Marseille must also know they will play better in Milan. After all, it would be hard to play much worse.
While Porto enjoyed more of the ball in our Europa League game, they frequently looked like a team unsure what to do with it. Hulk was not his normal menacing self, barely testing Joe Hart on the night. He got little help from his teammates, who seemed shattered by the early goal and looked as if they had already conceded defeat after just five minutes. The closest Porto came was when James Rodriguez had a goal correctly waved off after Maicon’s feed was redirected by Hulk.
Aguero was the architect of much of City’s offense tonight, feeding Edin Dzeko in the 77th with a lovely pass that beat the offside trap. For protesting the call — which was absolutely correct — Rolando picked up his second booking and was sent off by Wolfgang Stark. Aguero’s replacement, David Pizarro, showed his worth to the Eastlands faithful by setting up David Silva in the 84th (after some excellent one-touch interplay with Dzeko) then scored his own two minutes later as Porto crumbled.
Yaya Toure will miss City’s meeting with either Legia or Sporting Lisbon in the round of 16 as he picked up a card, but this was an otherwise unblemished performance from the Sky Blues. Porto now will return their focus to the league, where they trail arch-rivals Benfica by a single point.