Mar 12, 2013, 5:39 PM EDT
It’s so easy now, after witnessing what became a route in Catalonia, to wonder why we ever doubted Barcelona, but we had good reason to think Milan would hold the two-goal lead they carried into today’s Champions League eliminator. Nobody had ever squandered that kind of a league. But perhaps more importantly, recent losses to Milan and Real Madrid (twice) provided hints Barcelona’s attack had been figured out, with good teams able to sit back and absorb the Catalans’ attack rather than waste time chasing tikis and takas.
We had every reason to think Barcelona would bow out of Champions League, but their 4-0 win (4-2, aggregate) reminded us, Milan, and the European soccer world that there’s one aspect of Barcelona’s attack that defies solution. The only options you have against Lionel Messi are containment, hope, and prayer that he doesn’t decide to do something special.
Three weeks ago at the San Siro, those options worked, but it only took five minutes for Messi to make his mark on Tuesday, the first touch on a shot from 19 yards placed immaculately into Christian Abbati’s upper-right hand corner. The ball left Messi’s foot so quickly, Milan’s defense was left frozen as the ball buckled the back of the net.
Messi added his second five minutes before half, a score produced by a Barcelona defense that was much more disruptive on Tuesday than it had been three weeks ago. In the 40th minute, as Milan attempted to transition the ball out of their final third, Andrés Iniesta forced a turnover, found Messi outside the area to the right of goal, and set up the Argentine for the equalizer. Using the lunging Philippe Mexes as a screen, Messi beat Abbiati well inside the right post, sending the matchup into halftime tied at two.
Ten minutes into the second, Barcelona’s defense created the winner, with a bold read from Javier Mascherano again disrupting Milan’s transition. The Barça defender intercepted a clearance and started a short movement that ended at the feet of David Villa. Open 15 yards out to the right of goal, Villa calmly passed the ball into the left side netting, putting Barcelona in front.
Milan’s approach was never one to play from behind. Despite three subs that changed their side, the Rossoneri couldn’t gain control of the match. The closest they came to an equalizer was a late cross for Robinho, a ball that was cut out by Jordi Alba before Victor Valdes’s help was needed.
In the 93rd minute, Alba got his reward, sprinting the length of the field to complete a counter that sealed Barcelona’s place in the quarterfinals.
With the win, Barcelona became the first team to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and advance in the Champions League, a fact that should haunt a Milan side that couldn’t muster the resiliency they leveraged three weeks ago. The Italians never posed the same threat on the counter, and the space between their midfield three and central defense proved easier to exploit. Perhaps it was too much to ask them to maintain the same standard they performed to in Milan.
And perhaps it was too much to ask them to stop Messi twice in a row. In Italy, the Ballon d’Or winner was surprisingly ineffectual. In Spain, he defined the match in the same way we expect him to define any match he starts.
Villa may have got the winner, and Alba may have provided the insurance, but it was Messi who steered his side to history. Maybe we were wrong to doubt.
May 25, 2013, 10:30 PM EDT
Jurgen Klopp has a mountain to climb in order to erase the pain of the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.
May 25, 2013, 9:45 PM EDT
FC Barcelona have confirmed via their official Twitter account that Neymar has agreed to join the Catalan side next season.
May 25, 2013, 9:25 PM EDT
The club lost. Again. This team is awful. So … where are the big changes?
May 25, 2013, 8:50 PM EDT
Chelsea lost to Manchester City 5-3 for the sweep in the pair’s double dip in the United States.
May 25, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT
One of Major League Soccer’s hottest young strikers scores for the third consecutive match:
May 25, 2013, 8:27 PM EDT
It’s official: the Robbie Rogers’s return to soccer is nearly complete.
May 25, 2013, 7:19 PM EDT
Outgoing Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes hinted at Borussia Dortmund sensation Robert Lewandowski’s probable switch to Bayern after the Champions League final.
May 25, 2013, 6:50 PM EDT
Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium in London. The postmatch reactions pretty much cover it all.
May 25, 2013, 6:20 PM EDT
Manchester City and Chelsea are handing starts to four youngsters who are looking to make their breakthroughs.
May 25, 2013, 5:52 PM EDT
The 2013 Champions League final was incredibly exciting, and passed every test as a match that will live on in the memory of fans.
May 25, 2013, 5:25 PM EDT
How a wonderfully entertaining UEFA Champions League final played out:
May 25, 2013, 4:59 PM EDT
Arjen Robben, criticized by many for his woeful record in major finals, finally got over the hump in stunning fashion as his 89th minute winner sent Bayern Munich to the promised land.
May 25, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT
There have been two to make the semis; You know who they are?
May 25, 2013, 1:48 PM EDT
Looking back at his ground-breaking announcement, even Robbie Rogers is a little confused about why it was all such a big deal:
May 25, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
The most recent reports say it’s Barcelona FC, as the Catalan giants have apparently beaten Spanish rival Real Madrid for the Brazilian star’s services:
May 25, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Looking at the weekend MLS schedule and wondering if we’ll see one of these two on the field?
May 25, 2013, 11:40 AM EDT
Something to like from the Galaxy side – but one big concern, too:
May 25, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT
Despite the Chicago Fire’s awful record through 12 MLS rounds, there’s still enough to like about Frank Klopas’ club.
May 25, 2013, 12:32 AM EDT
Santos confirmed that they have accepted two offers for Brazilian sensation Neymar.
May 24, 2013, 9:29 PM EDT
In a mind-blowing move, USA Today have reported the LA Galaxy have sent a player to the Chicago Fire in exchange for the rights to Robbie Rogers.
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