Barcelona and Inter Milan will face each other in the last four of the UEFA Champions League after completing aggregate victories in Tuesday evening’s two quarter-finals. The Italians followed up their 1-0 first-leg win over CSKA Moscow by repeating the scoreline in the Russian capital, while the Catalans saw off Arsenal 4-1, with all their goals coming from an inspired Lionel Messi.
The Argentinian was unquestionably the star of the evening at the Camp Nou, continuing his recent excellent form and killing off whatever hopes the visitors had of a shock result. Inter’s matchwinner was Wesley Sneijder, whose fiercely struck free-kick was enough to end CSKA’s aspirations.
The final two quarter-final ties come to a conclusion on Wednesday night, with Bordeaux taking on Lyon and Manchester United entertaining Bayern Munich. The two winners will contest the other semi-final.
CSKA Moscow 0-1 Inter Milan (Inter Milan win 2-0 on aggregate)
Goal: Wesley Sneijder 6
Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal (Barcelona win 6-3 on aggregate)
Goals: Lionel Messi 21, 37, 42, 88 (Barcelona); Nicklas Bendtner 18 (Arsenal)
Goal of the night
Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (Lionel Messi, 42')
Seydou Keita’s astute header on the halfway line set Lionel Messi scampering away from the Arsenal defence. Keeping the ball under close control as he bore down on the Gunners goal, the diminutive Argentinian looked up to see Manuel Almunia advancing off his line before impishly dinking the ball over the keeper’s head to complete a quite magnificent first-half hat-trick.
The key moments
Closing down the space: Needing to score to get back into the tie, Arsenal pressed high up the pitch in the early stages, exerting pressure on Barcelona’s replacement central-defensive pairing of Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito. The Londoners’ tactic paid off after 18 minutes when Abou Diaby stole possession from Milito before releasing the speedy Theo Walcott on the right. The winger squared for the waiting Nicklas Bendtner, who stabbed the ball past Victor Valdes at the second attempt to silence the Camp Nou.
Make way for Lionel: Barcelona fans barely had time to worry about their heroes falling behind. Within three minutes the hosts were level, that little man Messi restoring parity with a stunning strike. Playing an involuntary one-two off the leg of Mikael Silvestre, the Argentinian unleashed an unstoppable drive from the edge of the penalty area and past the helpless Almunia.
The Barcelona machine then clicked into gear. Released by Messi, Eric Abidal surged into the box, his low centre eventually falling to Pedro, who teed up the incoming Messi for his second of the evening. Goal number three provided a sublime illustration of the technical skills at the disposal of the young magician, who rounded off his virtuoso performance by driving the ball between Almunia’s legs with just two minutes remaining.
Wisely conserving their energies throughout most of the second half, Barcelona will now turn their attention to Saturday’s Liga showdown with Real Madrid. Los Azulgranas will hope to have Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in action for the potential title decider along with Andres Iniesta, who came on against the Londoners with five minutes remaining.
Gone in 360 seconds: The suspense lasted all of six minutes on the artificial turf of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. That was the time that had elapsed when Wesley Sneijder stepped up to strike a fierce free-kick through a disorganised CSKA wall and past the startled Igor Akinfeev. The remaining 84 minutes were largely a formality for the experienced Italians, who proved resolute in defence and threatening up front, with coach Jose Mourinho selecting four attacking players in all.
A further illustration of I Nerazzuri’s superiority was the fact that Akinfeev was the home side’s outstanding performer on the night, thwarting Diego Milito on two occasions. His efforts would prove in vain, however, as the Milan giants eased through.
FIFA World Cup™ contenders
If Lionel Messi reproduces his current Barcelona form with Argentina in South Africa, La Albiceleste will have every chance of becoming world champions for the third time. European champions Spain will have the ever-reliable Xavi setting the tempo for them in the summer, and the midfield linchpin turned in two typically polished displays against Arsenal in the quarter-finals, completing well over 200 passes in the tie overall.
Ploughing a lone furrow up front for the Gunners, Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner stuck to his task gamely, putting his side ahead on aggregate, the prelude to Messi’s one-man show.
After William Gallas’s first-leg injury, the watching France coach Raymond Domenech has yet more selection concerns after seeing another of his defenders, Eric Abidal, limp off.
Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder was in peerless form as Inter Milan disposed of CSKA Moscow with a minimum of fuss, raising Netherlands’ hopes of a successful campaign at South Africa 2010. Meanwhile, Serbian team-mate Dejan Stankovic played his part, as did the Argentinian trio of Diego Milito, Esteban Cambiasso and the ageless Javier Zanetti, all of them mainstays of a solid and tactically disciplined unit.
Wednesday 7 April, quarter-final second legs
Manchester United-Bayern Munich (Bayern lead 2-1 on aggregate)
Bordeaux-Lyon (Lyon lead 3-1 on aggregate)
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