Champions League round-up: 10-11/04/07
AC Milan take on Man Utd as Liverpool set up a repeat meeting from 2005 with Chelsea for the semi-finals of the Champions League competition.
Man Utd emerge into the semis following their absolute routing of AS Roma on Tuesday night, a match that produced not only eight goals but another significant night in history for British football. From the whistle Utd came at Roma and it was Michael Carrick who begun proceedings by picking up a Christiano Ronaldo pass and dinking the ball over Roma keeper Alexandre Doni from 25 yards, the first of three goals within 20 mins. Utd had Alan Smith on instead of the expected Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Yorkshireman had the effect on the game where his harrying and chasing down signalled for his colleagues to let rip on their opponents that culminated in the end to Utd's best goal.
Rio Ferdinand passed across the back to Wes Brown, Brown took three touches and then passed to Rooney. What happened after was the involvement of five players who applied only one touch to the ball. Rooney passed to Carrick, who passed to Gabriel Heinze on the left, Heinze passed inside to Ryan Giggs and Giggs chipped towards Smith, who then ran on to touch the ball first time past Doni. The goal herald Smith's first for Utd since scoring away at The Valley on 19th November 2005. As I watched that goal, I notice how Roma were so open at the back, with Christian Panucci not even within barge-pole distance to Smith. Ronaldo was not to be denied at all, ending the first half and toasting the beginning of the second with a goal, followed by another Carrick finish. Daniele de Rossi scored a consolation before Patrice Evra slid in Utd's seventh at Doni's near post.
[To the Anon comentor who said "I say stick Smithy in there with the Romans and get them scared so ronaldo and Giggs can get Rooney in there." - Seems that your prayers were answered by Sir Alex!!!]
A little mention on the crowd unrest prior to the match: the Manchester Police showed good force, good control and dealt with any incidence of potential trouble, with as many as 21 arrests, 12 Englishmen and 4 Italians charged. There is no connection made as to whether those arrested support either team at the moment but the night went on as above with no trouble inside the ground. The Spanish and Italian football federations and their interior ministries should take note.
Chelsea had the pressure of the Mestalla added to by Fernando Morientes' goal on 32mins and went into the half time break having to re-think their strategy. Come the second half it was Andriy Shevchenko on 52mins who pounced on the loose ball in the box that came across from Michael Essien, Miguel and Roberto Ayala focusing on Didier Drogba leaving the Ukrainian at the far post to touch in past Santiago Canizares. Michael Ballack headed a superb ball towards goal from Frank Lampard's freekick that Canizares got down to to produce the save of the night, the ball coming off his left glove to go up and over the bar.
But Chelsea's relenting pressure on the hosts' goal paid dividends in the last minute as Essien once again attacked down the right and smacked an unexpected shot that fizzed low towards Canizares' near post and went in via the keeper's boot. This marked another jot in the history books for English clubs as Chelsea became the first to win at the Mestalla since Leeds United did it in the Inter-City Fairs Cup on 16th February 1966 (and 1967).
Many tipped Liverpool as good as through to the semis' because of the 0-3 aggregate from the Philips Stadion last week but nonetheless the job needed to be done and dusted last night, so no focus on last week's score. PSV caused a threat in the third minute when skipper Phillip Cocu crossed well from the left for the Peruvian Jefferson Farfan to beat Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia to a header, touched away by Pepe Reina. With Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher on the bench, Jermaine Pennant and Bolo Zenden positioned on the wings, Rafael Benitez maintained a more low-key approach to the game that was marred by Craig Bellamy's injury on 17mins, a jarred knee. Pennant ran down the right on 26mins to cross for Crouch to hit a half volley, the PSV keeper Heurelho Gomes diving left to tip away. A Zenden free-kick curled inches away from goal later on.
Farfan shot from outside the box for Reina blocked away as PSV showed early in the second half their threatening intent, Crouch replying with a shot that went wide. Minutes past the hour, PSV's quest was further hampered by the straight dismissal of central defender Dirk Marcellis as he slid in to tackle Zenden. Replays showed the Dutchman's right studs caught Zenden's boot, but nothing more than a caution, if not a word of warning, from referee Roberto Rosetti. The Liverpool fans felt so and applauded Marcellis off. Minutes after Liverpool scored as John Arne Riise attacked towards goal and crossed, Gomes dived to tip the ball away, Robbie Fowler (on for Bellamy) steered the ball away from the touchline to pass it across the area for Crouch to touch in.
So it is AC Milan who will go through to meet Man Utd in the semis, though the Italian side had to ride an uncomfortable journey through the second half as Bayern Munich came at them often to bring themselves back into the game. Bayern's undoing came firstly in the 27th minute as Kaka's pass was collected by Clarence Seedorf and as he paused within the Bayern defence, Seedorf then moved to his right to confuse both Lucio and Daniel Van Buyten to slid a low effort past Oliver Kahn's stretched right hand. Milan had renowned marksman Fillippo Inzaghi alone upfront and following a couple of moments where his touch had let him down, the marksman struck. Gennaro Gattuso passed to Seedorf central to Bayern's goal, and the Dutchman flicked on the ball with his back to goal to Inzaghi, who was between Lucio and Van Buyten and precariously offside by a foot. Nothing given, and the defenders made no appeal, Inzaghi went on to dink the ball over Kahn.
That was mostly the tale for the first half, not forgetting Bayern made some chances via the movements of Andreas Ottl, Mark Van Bommel, Christian Lell who replaced Sebastian Schweinsteiger, and Roy Maakay that went astray. But in the second half it was mostly Bayern and Milan's Dida had to be alert to deny Van Bommel as the Dutchman looked to strike from all opportunities. Kaka could have extended the lead as he danced into the Bayern box only to be denied by the veteran Kahn. Van Buyten's effort towards the end was blocked out by Dida's dive and Bayern eventually had to succumb to the inevitable as the final whistle blew. They had earned the right for at least more time but failing to score at all perished any more hope.
The dates and venues, then, are:
Tuesday 24th April, 7.45pm, Old Trafford, Man Utd v AC Milan;
Wednesday 25th April, 7.45pm, Stamford Bridge, Chelsea v Liverpool;
Tuesday 1st May, 7.45pm, Anfield, Liverpool v Chelsea;
Wednesday, 2nd May, 7.45pm, San Siro, AC Milan v Man Utd
Good luck to Spurs tonight. I sense the possibility of Spurs winning 3-1 or there being a 2-2 draw so hoping that Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Aaron Lennon, and possibly Ledley King being fit for the fight.