Champions League – Fire and Brimstone

There was nothing ordinary or run-of-the-mill about the decisive quarter-final second-leg encounters of probably the world’s best premier club competition.

Bayern Munich, Germany’s equivalent to Manchester United, in terms of domestic and international success, always faced an uphill struggle against Chelsea in the Olympic Stadium, having left Stamford Bridge with a 2-4 first leg deficit. A great plus for Bayern Munich was the lifting of the one match ban previously extended to their first choice striking partnership of Makaay and Pizarro. Bayern came out with all guns blazing, clearly intent on taking the fight to Mourinho’s supermen. Within five minutes, John Terry was forced to summon up all his resources to block a Ballack shot from close range and Petr Cech had to react swiftly to prevent Pizarro from scoring. Chelsea were rarely allowed to find their rhythm and it was Schweinsteiger next, who should have done better than to skew a dangerous shot wide. On the half-hour, Frank Lampard let fly with a low shot that, in a virtual carbon copy of Joe Cole’s opening first-leg effort. It bounced off Lucio and found the opposite corner to the one where Kahn had dived. Against the run of play, Chelsea were 1-0 up, 5-2 on aggregate. Bayern responded with two more gilt-edged chances before the interval, both of which Ballack failed to convert and continued to chase a lost cause in the second period of play. Their efforts were rewarded when Cech diverted a Ballack header against the post in the 65th minute, Pizarro stabbing home the ball. But Drogba restored Chelsea’s commanding lead 15 minutes later making it 2-1 and 6-3 on aggregate with the decisive goal of the tie. Late efforts from Guerrero and Scholl gave Bayern a 3-2 victory on the night but Chelsea safely progressed to the semi-finals, the overall scoreline reading a never really threatened 6-5 in favour of the Londoners.

Chelsea’s opponents on April 27 at Stamford Bridge will be Liverpool, who edged out Juventus with a disciplined performance in Turin. Protecting a slender 2-1 lead from the home leg at Anfield, Rafael Benitez’s team delivered a masterclass in the art of defending. Jamie Carragher was superb in leading the rearguard to smother anything the Juventus attack could muster. Goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek did not have to enter the fray until the 65th minute when catching a tame Pavel Nedved header, but was stretched shortly afterwards when coming down smartly to scoop up a Cannavaro header, which had rebounded goalwards off the post from the line. Milan Baros came closest to scoring for Liverpool following a great through ball from Xabi Alonso but Thuram did just enough to force the Czech international to shoot wide. At the final whistle, Liverpool ran out the deserved winners of the two-leg tie, guaranteeing that an English club will be in the final for the first time since Manchester United in 1999.

Awaiting the winners of the all-English semi-final will be either PSV Eindhoven or AC Milan. PSV had taken a big step towards overcoming the French champions by drawing the away leg 1-1, but found themselves trailing 1-0 to a Sylvain Wiltord strike after only 10 minutes. Shortly after the restart, however, Brazilian striker Alex restored parity, the score thereafter remaining tied at 1-1 (2-2 on aggregate) until penalties became necessary. Lyon’s marksmen looked less convincing and Gomes in the PSV goal was able to keep two efforts from Abidal and Essien out, to hand the Dutch victory and their first semi-final berth since 1988. They will play AC Milan who beat city rivals Inter in a derby engulfed in flames on April 26. Due to both teams sharing the Guiseppe Meazza stadium, both home and away ties took place in Milan with AC leading 2-0 from the first leg home game.European Footballer of the Year, Andriy Shevshenko, unleashed a ferocious shot from just outside the area after 30 minutes to put AC three up on aggregate and Inter’s campaign was all but over.

In the second half, referee Markus Merk disallowed an Esteban Cambiasso goal and all hell broke loose in the Inter fan blocks. Missiles rained onto the pitch, flares turning the stadium into a flaming cauldron. Players and officials fled into the tunnel as firefighters and riot police took over. An attempt to restart the game almost 20 minutes later had to be abandoned after 30 seconds as a further barrage of objects rained down from the terraces. No further play was possible. UEFA met last Friday and fined Inter 193,000 euros as well as handing out a four-match ‘closed doors’ ban. Should spectators misbehave again, a further two games will be added. The game itself was awarded to AC Milan, 3-0, therefore 5-0 on aggregate.

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