“We had an agreement with Lionel Messi and in the end this was put into practice. He is such an important player and his mere presence proved the key. He demonstrated that competitive ambition and hunger he has,” said Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura after watching his side scrape through to the semifinals of the Champions League —for a record sixth straight time — against a slick and solid PSG.
The deal was quite straightforward: PSG scored through Javier Pastore on 50 minutes, the Argentinean neatly finishing off a blistering counterattack and firing past Víctor Valdés. Immediately, Messi peeled off his tracksuit and took to the touchline, drawing huge cheers from an increasingly concerned Camp Nou crowd.
Although carrying an injury, Messi’s intervention was deemed necessary to arrest PSG’s ascendancy. After Pastore’s strike, the white shirts of the visitor poured forward at every chance, pounced on every loose ball and unleashed a cannonade in the direction of Valdés’ goal. But Barcelona held and 10 minutes after going down, Messi was thrown into the fray. PSG almost instinctively dropped back a little in the face of the Argentinean menace and the home side enjoyed a sustained period of pressure. In all, there were 39 goal attempts in the match; Barcelona accounted for 23 of those, six more than it mustered in 180 minutes against Milan in the previous round.
Barcelona’s pressing paid off 10 minutes after Messi’s introduction: the number 10 started the move, picking up the ball and wriggling through a couple of challenges to lay off to David Villa just inside the area. The Spain international, with his back to goal, flicked a layoff to Pedro, who smashed home to equalize. It proved to be the strike that would send Barcelona to the semifinals on away goals after last week’s 2-2 tie in Paris. However, unbeaten and unbowed over two legs, PSG has proven that it is quite serious about becoming a dominant continental force.
Málaga fumes after last-gasp loss
The residual anger of Málaga over its dramatic exit from the competition in Germany has even forced the Andalusia regional sports chief, Luciano Alonso, to state that the match referees “were not up to the task.” Alonso also claimed that Uefa president Michel Platini “has got away with it.”
These thoughts echo those of normally placid Málaga coach Manuel Pellegrini, who lambasted the match officials for allowing Dortmund’s winning goal, scored with almost the last kick of the game, to stand despite several players appearing to be offside before Felipe Santana bundled the ball over the line to give the home side a 3-2 win.
“On this occasion we could not, or they did not want us to, get through,” Pellegrini said. “After we went 2-1 ahead there was no refereeing. They forced us back with elbows and shoves. There were two sendings off that were not given and a double offside in the third goal, which should not have counted. They said this was the best team in Europe and by the end they were hoofing long balls forward. We are leaving with very bitter feelings.”
Club director general Vicente Casado promised Málaga would launch an official complaint about Scottish referee Craig Thomson. “We are outraged,” he said. “Not only Málaga lost, but football too.”
Owner Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani went a step further, blaming the defeat on “racism.”
On Thursday, Barcelona confirmed that its star forward had not aggravated his muscle problem by playing and will almost certainly be available for the semifinals in two weeks.
Real Madrid’s bid to re-establish itself as a European superpower looked as though it was in the bag even before kick-off in Istanbul. José Mourinho’s side carried a 3-0 advantage to the Türk Telecom Arena and when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 10th of the tournament, Galatasaray was left with a five-goal mountain to climb. At half time the score remained the same but a minor collapse in the second period saw the home side score three in 15 minutes to give itself hope of a monumental comeback.
However, Real had never been eliminated from Europe when 3-0 up from the first leg of a tie and Ronaldo added another in stoppage time to put the contest beyond the Turkish champion.
“You learn from your mistakes; the team always give their best but from time to time we make mistakes — this can happen, and the best thing is it happened now and not in a decisive game. The most important thing is that Real Madrid are in the semifinals,” Ronaldo told Uefa.com. “We want to win the Champions League – we know it’s difficult but for me it’s possible.” The semifinals draw will be held Friday at 12 noon.