Saturday, April 10, 2010

Champions League Quarters - 2nd Legs

In both of Manchester United's matches against Bayern Munich in this quarterfinal round, they got out to fast starts, getting a Wayne Rooney goal in the second minute in the first leg, then on Wednesday getting a third-minute goal from Gibson and seventh-minute goal by Nani to give Man U the 3-2 aggregate lead. Still later in the first half, a second Nani goal gave Man U the first three goals in the match and a two goal aggregate lead.

Of the three goals, the first goal by Nani was the most spectacular. It began with a beautiful diagonal pass from just inside midfield by Wayne Rooney (who was playing with an ankle injury suffered in the first leg) to Valencia, who after settling into a one-on-one matchup with his defender, played a beautiful accurate cross into the box to Nani who had freed himself. Nani let the ball pass through his legs then redirected the ball with his back leg for the goal.

The first goal for Manchester came when the Bayern keeper Butt made a poor attempt on a strike by Gibson from just outside the box, then the third goal came on a familiar combination when Nani made a great move to get free following a throw-in and again found Nani on a cross that was promptly slammed in for his second goal.

However, with Man U now having a goal to spare, they let their guard down, and just two minutes later took advantage of some sloppy, lazy defense and snuck a ball past the keeper Van Der Sar on a bit of a broken play, giving Bayern some confidence heading into the half and leaving them just a goal back of tying the aggregate score and allowing them to advance based on away goals.

What's more, Man U's Rooney took a shot to the ankle in the 21st minute and played the rest of the half with a noticeable lack of mobility. Rooney would play through the 55th minute, before getting pulled for a sub.

More bad news came for the United side when midfielder Rafael got redcarded after a tackle about seven minutes into the second half, leaving them down a man with just a goal to spare.

However, that goal advantage disappeared in the 71st minute when Bayern's Franck Ribary lifted a beautiful corner kick into the box that found Robben just waiting for it. He timed the ball perfectly and drilled the ball into the far low corner of the net, tying up the aggregate score, which was all Bayern needed to advance. The final 20 minutes or so Bayern controlled, (not without a few solid runs by Man U), and they advance to face the winner of Bordeaux and Lyon, a game that I hope to watch tomorrow at some point.

Elsewhere in the quarterfinals, Barcelona finished off Arsenal behind an amazing four-goal performance by Messi, regarded as one of the handful of best players in the world. He showed why on Tuesday, proving himself a dangerous weapon, an aggressive player with a quick shot that he can get off without a lot of space. While Arsenal scored first on a goal by Bendtner on a breakaway that was perhaps poorly played by Theo Walcott (nevertheless, a huge spark for Arsenal throughout this round), Messi began his onslaught in the 21st minute when he grabbed a loose ball that occurred after his pass was broken up and slammed it home. In the 37th minute, he scored a similar goal of a loose ball (on a play that was begun by Messi near midfield on a pass to a cutting Avidal), and just before the break he made it a first-half hat-trick with a little chip over a charging keeper that began when he had broken up a Arsenal pass at midfield. Messi even had a chance for a fourth goal in the first half, but actually misplayed a ball on a breakway, hitting a dribble a little fat and allowing the keeper the chance to cover it up. Messi added a fourth goal late in the game on a play that highlighted his persistence, even with the game firmly in hand.

With the win, Barcelona will advance to the semis to face Inter Milan, who traveled to Moscow and finished off CSKA, highlighted by a free kick by Sneijder early in the game that went right under a CSKA wall and past a blinded keeper.

Some other random thoughts: Champions League semifinal without an EPL participant. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this is a fairly rare occurence.

When Rooney left the pitch on Wednesday, the broadcast showed a sign that said: "Wayne Rooney: the white Pele". Now, I clearly haven't watched a ton of Rooney, and while I think he is a tough player and certainly skilled, I think that sign is frankly ridiculous.

Players I found myself drawn to in these three games: Bayern's Ribary continues to be a favorite, Man U's young guns like Valencia and Nani, and I like Van Der Sar as a keeper, and, of course, Messi, who was amazing in the second leg.

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