The Champions League final four are set with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid as this year’s representatives. As Madrid and Munich easily advanced without any hiccups, Barca and Chelsea benefitted from referee calls to send them to the next round. The benefactors of the whistle are grouped together in the semi-finals but with Barcelona as the favorites, can Chelsea pull off the improbable? Munich and Madrid will be a tougher test on both ends yet the Spanish side’s recent form would give them the edge in their battle. Will the motivation of playing the final at home push Bayern Munich to say otherwise? Can Chelsea once again prove everyone wrong once again? And will Barcelona and Madrid provide the soccer world the final fans are salivating for? We’ll have to see but until then let’s look at how these teams got here.
Barcelona 3, AC Milan 1 (3-1 agg. Barca)
Scoreless in the first leg, this battle between the two clubs came down to one match and after only eleven minutes Barca were on the board. Lionel Messi knocked in the first of his two penalty kicks after getting fouled by Luca Antonini. The early lead wouldn’t last when Zlatan Ibrahimovic found an open Antonio Nocerino to level the teams after sliding the ball into the left side of the net in the “32nd minute. The implications of the goal would send AC Milan to the next round on the away goal unless Barcelona could score again. And with Milan defender Alessandro Nesta tugging the jersey of dive prone Sergio Busquets in the box, the subsequent penalty once again put the Spanish side ahead. To seal it up for Barca, Messi’s second half deflected shot finds Andre Iniesta (“53) to put the nail in the coffin and send them to face Chelsea.
Bayern Munich 2, Olympique Marseille 0 (4-0 agg Munich)
Going double donuts in both legs, Olympique Marseille were no match literally against Munich. The French team started quickly with their attempts at goal but Munich keeper Manuel Neuer held them at bay. Even though the Bavarians left Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben out of the starting eleven, Ivica Olic used the opportunity to poke in two goals to secure the “w.” Frank Ribery crossed over the first goal (“13) to Olic after speedy dash toward the box and David Alaba assist from the left wing crossed toward Olic again for a running chip for the second and final goal (“37).
Although Toni Kroos didn’t score during the game his strike from distance was the shot of the game resulting in an excellent diving save from Marseille’s keeper, Steve Mandala. Bayern have to face the surging Real Madrid in the next round but the German team are no slouches either and could easily run rampant with their depth of talent.
Real Madrid 5, Apoel 2 (8-2 agg Madrid)
Real Madrid up by three goals entering the game, the team could’ve easily went in defensive mode against Apoel until the final whistle. The opposite occurred however scoring five while coughing up a pair of goals back to the Cypriots. Madrid’s goal collection were by far the best of this round’s UCL matches. Cristiano Ronaldo struck first pinching in a goal (“26) originating from winger Marcelo. Later Kaka’s amazing long distance shot (“37) after another Marcelo assist put Madrid up a commanding five goals by the half.
The second half started strong for Apoel after a quick thinking pass and goal (“67) from Gustavo Manduca. Ronaldo silenced the Apoel faithful minutes later with free kick (“75) masterpiece falling in on the opposite corner of the goal. The massive scoreline by Los Blancos continued with a Callejon dart of a goal (“80) on the keepers side and lastly a chip (“84) by Angel Di Maria when the Apoel keeper was off his line, putting the cherry on top of their dominant victory. If Madrid continue their excellence in the semis against Munich, seeing Los Blancos in the final is a certainty.
Chelsea 2, Benfica 1 (3-1 agg Chelsea)
Only a goal between the Chelsea and Benfica teams, the Portuguese only needed two goals to move on, as long as they kept the home side scoreless. Highly unlikely for Chelsea especially at Stamford Bridge but a little assistance from the Javi Garcia mowing down Ashley Cole led to the penalty goal (“21) from Frank Lampard to give the English club an aggregate two goal advantage. Before the half Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is fouled by Benfica captain Maxi Pereira and is quickly handed his second yellow card of the night and ejected. Missed shots by both teams added to the match drama especially with an missed tap in from Chelsea’s Ramires and a stop on a great chance by Fernando Torres.
Instead of Chelsea locking up the win, Benfica kept their chances to advance alive after Javi Garcia redeemed his penalty flub by heading in a goal (“85) from a corner kick. With five minutes and injury time remaining, Chelsea needed to hold off the Benfica attack. The best defense was offense on this occasion when ironically Chelsea’s own Portuguese midfielder Raul Meireles smashed in an injury time goal (“90 +2) to continue the English club’s quest toward the final. Now paired up with Barcelona in the semi-finals, can they pull off what most consider the impossible?
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