UEFA Champions League review
After a shaky first-half showing in Stuttgart, Barcelona raised their game just enough to secure a valuable 1-1 draw that puts them in control of their tie. Even so, the holders still have work to do if they are to make it through to the last eight, a round that has often proven beyond the reach of defending champions.
In the evening’s other game Bordeaux chalked up their sixth consecutive win in the competition by edging out Olympiacos 1-0 in Greece, a result that confirmed their status as the revelations of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Goal of the night
Stuttgart 1-0 Barcelona, Cacau 25
Stationed out on the right, Timo Gebhart swung a fine curling cross to the far post, where Cacau stole in behind Carles Puyol and placed an unstoppable header across Victor Valdes and into the back of the net. It was the least Stuttgart deserved for a fine spell of pressure.
The key moments
Stuttgart show no fear: Barcelona made the kind of start expected of defending champions, pushing their German opponents into their own half for the opening quarter of an hour. It was not to last, however, with the Barça midfield becoming less and less influential as the first half wore on, despite the unexpected return of Xavi. Prompted by Sami Khedira, and with Pavel Pogrebnyak and strike partner Cacau proving a handful up front, the hosts started exerting some pressure of their own, creating several dangerous openings. Gebhart’s pinpoint cross and the Brazilian-born German forward’s superb header were just reward for Stuttgart’s enterprising play. As a sign of things to come after the break, however, Lionel Messi threaded a shot past Jens Lehmann and onto the post.
Ciani times it to perfection: Olympiacos and Bordeaux were about to go in all-square at the break after an evenly balanced first half when Yoann Gourcuff served up another of his deadly accurate free-kicks from the left flank. Surging into the six-yard box to meet it, centre-half Mickael Ciani evaded the attentions of the defence and goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis to nod home the winner for the visitors. Ciani is making quite a mark in this his first European campaign, with the towering stopper having now bagged three goals and is his side’s top scorer in the competition.
Thanks Lionel: Pep Guardiola obviously did not mince his words during his half-time team talk. Barcelona were a side transformed after the restart, rediscovering their trademark fluidity, with an on-song Lionel Messi attracting more attention than most from the home defence. The Catalans restored parity just seven minutes into the second half when Gerard Pique, up for a half-cleared corner, nodded a loose ball into the path of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who beat Lehmann at the second attempt. Largely controlling possession thereafter, the European champions expertly ran down the clock.
FIFA World Cup™ contenders
Lionel Messi is back to his very best. The Argentinian woke his side from their slumber and led from the front, producing the kind of performance Diego Maradona will be expecting from him in South Africa.
France fans will also have been heartened by Yoann Gourcuff’s display in Piraeus. The Bordeaux playmaker showcased his set-piece skills and appears to be returning to form. Germany’s naturalised Brazilian striker Cacau seems to have put his goalscoring drought behind him, advancing his South Africa claims with another goal to add to the four he hit against Cologne at the weekend.
Round of 16 first leg - Wednesday 24 February
(Second legs to be held 16 March)
CSKA Moscow-Sevilla (18.30)
Inter Milan-Chelsea (20.45)
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