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.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
“What I said to the players is ‘get it out of your head. Go home, reflect a little bit and I will do my best to come up with something better.’”
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
It wasn’t a pretty night to be in Turkey, as violent fans at Trabzonspor forced the abandonment of a match with rivals Fenerbahce on Monday night.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
What to do with the goal-scoring 34-year-old Scot who’s out of contract in June?
Mar 10, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
“Kevin made a huge contribution to our qualification for the World Cup, he never let us down and now his dreams have died,” said Holland manager Louis van Gaal.
Mar 10, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
Like Manuel Pellegrini and his distaste for a certain Swedish official, Wenger is also critical of UEFA slotting in a referee from a non-footballing power.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
MLS has become a decent destination for goalkeepers, with top internationals for Peru, Brazil and Panama plying their trades in the United States this season.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
Djalo, 27, hasn’t found his footing in Lisbon, playing in just three matches since then and spending parts of 2012 and 2013 on loan at Toulouse in Ligue 1, where he appeared 17 times.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Arsenal has been handed a boost for their massive Tuesday task of reversing Bayern Munich’s 2-0 advantage in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“It’s like playing 1 1/2, 1 3/4 games in terms of damage to your body,” said Ryan Nelsen.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
That is not a lousy public high-five for a player, now, is it?
Mar 10, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT
Timbers skipper staying put, as owner Paulson takes to Twitter to rejoice:
Mar 10, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Five teams dominate selections, find out if your favorites were rewarded:
Mar 10, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
Barcelona have lost two of their last three La Liga matches, can City inflict more UCL heartache on the Catalan club?
Mar 10, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
Reds are in the red… but Champions League soccer could solve that and increase the club’s financial footing:
Mar 10, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
After Shea apparently ‘flipped the bird’ Barnsley end his loan deal from Stoke early:
Mar 10, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
USWNT lost two straight games, winless in three for the first time in 13 years:
Mar 10, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Find out why the FA has reprimanded a Newcastle player for breaching betting rules, as some PL players continue to break rules:
Mar 10, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT
See who dazzled and shone above the rest during Week 29:
Mar 10, 2014, 11:12 AM EDT
Two designs left, as NYC FC let their fans pick the franchises new badge ahead of 2015 MLS entry:
Mar 10, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT
PST’s lead writer and editor takes an alternative look at all the action from Week 29:
- Third time’s the harm: Fan violence forces abandonment of Trabzonspor’s match with Fenerbahce 1
- If you had Pepe Reina in your “European star rumored for MLS” pool today, you win! 0
- US women lose second straight for first time since 2001 after ugly 5-3 defeat to Denmark 4
- Premier League Playback: Fifth place finish for Man United? Superstar Shaw, Arsenal’s big chance 0
- Bayern Munich star Toni Kroos fails to rule out Manchester United move 6
- Manchester United set to bid $50 million for Southampton’s star duo 0
- TV Ratings for MLS Season Opener Increase 283% in 1 Year
- Liga MX Radar: Michael Arroyo Scores a Quad
- Sounders FC Monday Morning Breakdown
- Maidana Stars in Impressive Philly Newbie Trio
- Barnsley Send Brek Shea Back to Stoke after Fight with Fan
- Yanks in Mexico: Torres Scores in Tigres Win, Garza Gives Solid Display
- Julio Cesar Put his Semester in Toronto at Risk
- Getafe Fire Luis Garcia, Hire Cosmin Contra as New Manager
- Former Sounders Teammates Rosales and Hurtado Faced off in LA
- The Clock is Ticking for Tim Sherwood at Spurs