A Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona Final? Maybe not. As the first leg of the semi-final rounds of the Champions League draw to a close, the dream final most were hoping for, myself included, suffers a major setback. Bayern Munich scored a 90th-minute shocker to lead their match-up, while Chelsea’s counter-attack and lock-down defense turned Barca mortal. In other words – frontrunner fail. Munich and Chelsea are not underdogs in the scheme of top-flight squads in world football, but those expecting an “El Clasico” Champions League Final still have hope. Both second-leg games are in Spain and best believe next week soccer fans all over the globe will keep their eyes glued to the finale of who will fight for the sport’s top trophy.
Bayern Munich 2, Real Madrid 1
Two story lines emerge when discussing the semi-final between Real Madrid & Bayern Munich. Number one – Bayern Munich will do their damnest to reach the final on their home ground. Number two – Real Madrid want to once again kiss silverware that’s eluded them for so long. It will be settled in the second leg, but number one looks promising after Munich’s effort Tuesday night.
Madrid maintained pace, composure and possession in the first ten minutes. Domination appeared evident until Munich scrapped their way to exact their own skill on the field. In a matter of moments, Frank Ribery had an initial run and foul in the box that the referee paid no mind to. Instead of sulking, Ribery dashed again on another run, which was dispossessed into a corner kick. The corner was not well struck, but with Madrid’s Sergio Ramos’ poor chest clearance, the ball dribbled along the grass toward a grateful Ribery who smashed home the first goal (“17) of the semi-final round.
Continued runs by both teams would see the ball ping-pong its way across the pitch. Bayern controlled the latter portion of the first half and took chance after chance, attempting to pad their one-goal advantage.
However, Madrid wouldn’t remain quiet in the second half. Maintaining the play Los Blancos are famous for, they pushed forward and in the 53rd minute it paid off. After a missed strike by Cristiano Ronaldo, a beautiful sequence of pass-cross-pass ended on the feet of German Memut Ozil, as he buried the ball in the back of the net. Madrid looked back on track, securing a crucial away goal.
So how did Bayern respond? With a last-gasp, 90th-minute cross by Philipp Lahm, which a sliding Mario Gomez directed into the goal. A hard-fought battle from beginning to end, Madrid may regret not snatching another away goal. But they will be out for blood–Bayern red to be specific.
Chelsea 1, FC Barcelona 0
It was business as usual for Barcelona, as they dominated possession in the first half. Both teams had early scoring opportunities, but strong defense from both sides prevented scoring. Chelsea played a long ball that was eventually thwarted and a chip shot from Barca’s Alexis Sanchez’s clipped the bar. The teams’ flurry of speed was reminiscent of the Madrid-Munich semi and a definitive winner wasn’t clear. Chelsea’s ability to clog the passing lanes was remarkable against a tactically superior Barca side. Also, Chelsea keeper Peter Cech proved a wonderful stop gap, as every Barca attempt appeared futile.
Besides the eventual game winner, Barcelona’s defense was also on par. Carles Puyol was a defensive rock and made a fitting sparring mate to Chelsea striker Didier Drogba. The best offensive opportunity for Barcelona came in the 42nd minute after Lionel Messi snatched the ball midfield and sent a through ball to Fabregas. Fab sent his chip toward goal, but it didn’t have enough punch, as Chelsea back Ashley Cole cleared the ball just in time.
Seconds before the half Messi suffered an assumed groin injury. As Barca sluggishly passed the ball waiting for the whistle a defensive stop from Chelsea lead to a Ramires ground cross to Drogba and Chelsea’s winning goal. The London crowd roared, as another hard fought goal by Drogba (“45) stunned the overconfident Barca fans.
In the second half Barca again dominated possession. An 87th minute Puyol header to Thiago almost hit the goal, but a last minute parry from Cech denied them once again. Barcelona again showed their ability to lose their powers when they need them most. Even toward the end of the match it looked like they would pull level, but as I saw the ball bounce off the far right cross-bar and clank like a Dwight Howard free throw my mouth dropped. Barcelona had lost.
Yes, Chelsea should be extremely happy. They did something most teams couldn’t. But a Chelsea second-leg win at Camp Nou–a park the size of an NFL stadium with 90,000 Catalans breathing down the Londoners’ necks–will be the true judgment of an upset. Then I’ll believe the hype.