The Champions League’s version of the elite eight kicked off their first leg match ups this week. While the Barcelona vs AC Milan match surprisingly ended in a stalemate, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich turned on paper expectations into actuality with convincing victories. Chelsea continued its European momentum with a late winner and seems to go all in while their domestic title hopes out of reach. This week proved that the luck of the draw may push forward a few teams toward the next round, while others have a steeper mountain to climb toward the final.
Let’s break down these first leg matches.
Real Madrid 3, Apoel 0
The underdogs from Cyprus made it. Maybe I’ll call them the Butler Bulldogs of soccer but game after game they found a way to pull through and win. Call it luck or just fortunate chances but completing the same task against a team like Real Madrid would be epic. The only thing is – its Real Madrid. After a botched poach in goal for Madrid’s Karim Benzema in the 33rd minute, the match remained scoreless in the first half. The key substitution for Los Blancos by bringing in Brazilian international Kaka’ resulted not only in assist for Benzema (“74) but also scoring a goal for himself (“82) making it a 2-0 game. Securing the win and possibly the series, Memut Ozil rockets and accurate angled pass through defenders right to the feet of Benzema to score the third in the 90th minute. If Apoel was on cloud nine, Real Madrid surely sent the club down to earth. WIth a second leg a week away, expect Madrid to move on with ease.
Chelsea 1, Benfica 0
Genius or Insane? The question arose about Chelsea interim manager Roberto Di Matteo when he decided to start Paulo Ferreira, David Luiz and Fernando Torres while sitting their usual top form contributors. Torres? Insane would be the pick by most. But genius ended up being the description to call the coach as Torres provided the assist to Salomon Kalou (“75) on a sliding poke-in goal. The Portuguese side provided some good chances at goal but the pace seemed to favor Chelsea while luckily getting referee calls in their benefit. As the last club from England playing in the UCL held their lead for the first leg victory, it still is anyone’s game when both clubs battle next week at Stamford Bridge.
Bayern Munich 2, Olympique Marseile 0
There’s always a aura of hype and expectation when a team’s home stadium hosts a championship final. In the NFL a couple of seasons ago, Cowboys Stadium hosted the Superbowl and predictions swung toward the home side in the final. In the case of world football that desire falls upon Bayern Munich. As Allianz Arena hosted this year’s UCL final, the team furthered their chances of making that thought a reality taking a 2-0 win against Olympique Marseille in France. The first goal was controversial on an uncalled handball that lead to a run that led Mario Gomez to score before halftime. With no whistle, the goal was official, much to dismay of Marseille fans. Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer kept the French side scoreless with some key stops but it was Arjen Robben, the beneficiary of a give an go play to easily tap in the goal (“69) and secure the first leg win. If the German club continues their winning ways, their chances improve on seeing the home side advance to the semi-finals.
AC Milan 0, FC Barcelona 0
The first Champions League contest between AC Milan and Barcelona will remain as one of the best meetings of the season. Expectations of these two powerhouses battling once again were high and scoring a definite or so we had hoped. The hard fought contest of the defending Italian and Spanish champs proved the strength of both defenses as the score line ended blank for both sides. Chances were taken and taken early but a whiffer by Milan’s Robinho to take the lead ended up in the stands. A debatable foul by Milan keeper Christian Abbiati on Barca wing Alexis Sanchez was not called and possibly could have been the turning point of the match. The majority of the match was a combination of off-target shots and superb defensive plays, as both squads looked off-kilter in this knockout quarterfinal. With both clubs coming to Spain next week, the gritty nature of this war of champs will commence but after seeing the first leg pan out, expect either extra-time or a penalty shoot out to decide the winner.