Barcelona is out of the UEFA Champions League after losing by two goals to nil against Atletico Madrid, and Pep Guardiola is still on course to face his new club Man City after his Bayern side squeeze past Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.
I always thought the only team capable of beating Barcelona in this year’s Champions League was Atletico Madrid. Tonight they proved my gut right. They eliminated them from the quarterfinals two years ago, and Diego Simeone’s men have done it again after winning by two goals to nil at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Jimmy Greaves once said, “football is a funny old game.” How right he was. A fortnight ago, Barcelona had enjoyed a 39 match unbeaten run. Walking into the cauldron of the Vicente Calderon, they had lost two out of their last three. In contrast, Atletico was hammering balls into the back of their home net for fun with 11 in their last three home games.
Five of those goals had come from Antoine Griezmann, and one doubts he would have started tonight’s game had Fernando Torres not been missing through suspension after being sent off in the first leg. The Frenchman did start, and boy did he make a difference.
Barcelona controlled the first 20-minutes of the game without threatening the Madrid goal. Then, out of nothing, a Saul Niguez cross was floated across the Barcelona box, and Griezmann headed it into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Now Atletico had control of the football match. Torres’s away goal at the Nou Camp meaning Barcelona had to score. It took them a long time to get into their flow. Lucas Hernandez hit the bar with a 54th-minute header, and it seemed to stir Barcelona into action.
As the time ticked away, Barcelona’s threat seemed more and more ominous. But Atletico was always dangerous on the break, and when Filipe Luis broke down the left and slipped the ball towards Griezman in the box, Andres Iniesta handled it, giving the Frenchman the chance to increase Atletico’s progression, by scoring from the spot, and he duly did.
Still a Barcelona goal would send the match into extra time, and they will be fuming after being denied that opportunity when the referee judged that a handball by Gabi had occurred outside the box when the replay shows it was inside. The free kick blazed over the bar, and a few seconds later the whistle went. Barcelona, the favourites, were out.
Bayern Brush Past Benfica
Barcelona’s surprise exit leaves Bayern Munich as favourites to win the competition after a thrilling 2-2 draw away at Benfica saw them go through to the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate.
It was always going to be a tough night for a Benfica side missing their top scorer Jonas through suspension. For the first 20-minutes, Bayern dominated as Benfica were chasing shadows. Then, in the 27th minute, Eliseu broke down the left, swept the ball into the penalty area and Jiminez headed home from 12-yards, completely against the run of play.
It was a game-changing goal. Benfica started to grow in confidence only for it to be shattered just before half time when Vidal scored his second goal of the tie smashing the ball home from the edge of the box.
Things went from bad to worse at the start of the second half when a Xabi Alonso corner was headed back across the box by Javi Martinez and Thomas Muller was on hand to stab the ball home from close range.
Talisco would pull one back for Benfica with a stunning free kick in the 77th minute, but they just had too much to do and so little time. It’s the fifth year in succession that the German champions have reached the semi-final, but they have never won the thing with Pep Guardiola at the helm. How ironic it would be if he won it facing his new club Man City in the final.
Champions League Winners Odds (Courtesy of Bodog)
Bayern Munich +150
Real Madrid +250
Atletico Madrid +300
Manchester City +600