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.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:43 PM EDT
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Oct 24, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
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Oct 24, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
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Oct 24, 2014, 2:26 PM EDT
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Oct 24, 2014, 2:01 PM EDT
It’s going to be ugly and we’re going to shake our heads. Some will feign shock. And the whole cycle will repeat itself again at Barcelona.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
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Oct 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
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Oct 24, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Where and how to watch every game during Week 9 of the PL.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
It’s a top-four battle — no, seriously — as Manchester City rolls into Upton Park to take on Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Who makes the cut as MLS players deserving of a look at USMNT camp?
Oct 24, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
An all-MLS final appearance is impossible thanks to seeding, and Montreal and DC can only face-off if they win in the quarterfinals this winter.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:38 AM EDT
The purpose of the show is for the Robbies to hear from the fans on this call-in show, so dial 855-323-4622 and have your say.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
El Clasico is upon us, and my goodness will it be a doozy between Real Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday at the Bernabeu.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT
French police had arrested a man for selling drugs, according to the BBC, and that earned the ire of already on-edge Everton supporters.
Oct 24, 2014, 7:44 AM EDT
The European Club Association includes at least one club from every nation in UEFA and includes Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT
Previewing the last weekend of full-tilt MLS competition.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT
Lille and Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama thinks it would be dangerous to hold the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ebola outbreak.
Oct 23, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
Brazil’s national football team has a new code of conduct under manager Dunga.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
Wonderful touch and power utilized on a first-class goal from Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Harry Kane notched a hat trick in Tottenham’s Europa League victory over Asteras Tripoli, and he then found himself manning the goal as a netminder following a Hugo Lloris red card.
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