Milan hold Barca to goalless draw; Messi & co draw blank at San Siro
AC Milan held reigning champions Barcelona to a first leg draw, in a goalless but absorbing quarter-final tie.
This gem of the Champions League fixture list nearly provided a goal in the opening three minutes. Barcelona attempted to play the ball around the back four, only to lose possession in their own third. Milan pounced, and Kevin Prince-Boateng’s shot was blocked by Gerard Pique, before Robinho should have done better, blazing his shot over as the ball fell to him just yards from goal.
Just before the ten-minute mark, Dani Alves almost capitalised on an error from Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, who spilled a shot from Lionel Messi.
Not long after that Barcelona fashioned a chance that should have seen them awarded a penalty. A cleverly worked free kick found Alexis Sanchez in the penalty area. The Chilean showed quick feet to knock the ball past Abiatti, who clumsily brought him down, only for the goal line official stood just yards away to ignore appeals for a foul.
The Catalan club then had a goal disallowed after Messi had drifted offside, and they appeared to be turning the screw.
Despite this, Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have put the hosts ahead 20 minutes in. The Swede scuffed his shot into the onrushing Victor Valdes, after his side had won the ball on the halfway line.
Sanchez gained a yard on his defender 15 minutes later, and sprinted from the halfway line to the opposition goal. A last ditch tackle from Luca Antonini prevented the quick forward from pulling the trigger, and kept the two teams level.
By half time the match had been entertaining, but had yielded no goals.
The second half started at a much slower pace than the first had operated in.
Come the 65th minute, the game had reached a seeming stalemate, with Pep Guardiola reacting first by swapping Andres Iniesta for Cristian Tello. His counterpart then saw fit to also make a tactical change, bringing Boateng off for Urby Emanuelson.
As the spectacle continued, it began to develop into a battle for possession. For most teams this would be a hapless task against Barcelona, but the pressure Milan were putting their opponents under meant that the visitors were unable to settle into their usual passing game.
With just a quarter of the match left, a Messi shot was blocked by Massimo Ambrosini from inside the area, and Carles Puyol’s header from the resulting corner almost crept in at the far post. These represented two of the half’s goalmouth highlights, with both sides struggling to design clear scoring opportunities.
Messi looked to have won the match in the 87th minute, ghosting around a robust tackle inside the area, with Abbiati getting down low to block the effort, and Antonini performed equal heroics to block Tello’s follow up.
Neither side were resting on their laurels but the game finished goalless, though not for the want of trying.
There was a feeling that both sides could feel satisfied with the end result. Milan had achieved the unenviable task of keeping a home clean sheet against Barcelona, whilst the Catalans will still be extremely confident they can achieve a victory at Camp Nou, and once again progress to the last four.
In the night’s other game, Bayern Munich secured a comfortable 2-0 victory against Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. Goal-scorer supreme Mario Gomez and Dutchman Arjen Robben grabbed the goals, and a mouthwatering semi-final with Real Madrid already looks a shoe-in.