Well here’s to the most pointless set of Champions League quarter final second legs in the history of its existence? Certainly for a very long time! Football fans the world over watched the eagerly anticipated draw in mid-March; mouths watering over the possibility of Harry vs. Jose, Gareth Bale adding Real Madrid to his list of ‘teams I destroyed this season’, the all-English clash of the titans Chelsea vs. United, Torres finally finding himself or Ancelotti out of a job, a refreshing bunch of youthful talented players in Shakhtar Donetsk (who won at the Camp Nou in December 2008) shocking the world by beating the best team in the world, and the current holders; the almighty Inter Milan after their breath-taking tie with Bayern in the last round coming face-to-face with surprise package Shalke 04 led by the ever aging, every prolific Raul. “What a draw” we said, “An all-English final, AT WEMBLEY” we said. And how wrong we were!
If anything there was goals, in fact in the first legs alone we saw eighteen hit the back of the net! None more so than Dejan Stankovic’s unbelievable first-time volley from the halfway line and Angel Di Maria’s thunderous strike at the Bernabeu. But as brilliant and as plentiful as they were they all served one miserable purpose which was to kill off any chance of a spectacle in the second leg.
Tottenham’s 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Real Madrid pretty much sealed their fate, a double from ex-Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor and the stupidity of red-carded Peter Crouch cost them a place in the semi-final a week ago. But nevertheless Harry’s boys turned in a typically defiant first half performance in the second leg; with a bit of luck they might have had a penalty or two. But then the calamitous Heurelho Gomes pressed the self-destruct button five minutes after the break. My 70-year-old Nan could’ve saved Ronaldo’s speculative effort, but not Gomes. 5-0 on aggregate and an away goal (despite wishful thinking from ITV who thought Spurs deserved the goal) well and truly distinguished any hopes of a comeback, as if we didn’t already know. The White Hart Lane faithful showed their appreciation after the game; Harry now turns his attentions to that crucial fourth-place finish. The special one on the other hand could still fulfil his prophecy and win Europe’s biggest prize with three different clubs, but it’s not going to be easy, El Clasico awaits!
Tuesday night’s clash between United and Chelsea was the only competitive one of the round. Wayne Rooney resisted the urge to stick two fingers up towards his critics at Stamford Bridge when he bagged a crucial winner in the first leg and Torres once again showed his worth, £50 million of pure class, I think? No, Not at all actually. Ancelotti left us all amazed when he substituted the lively Drogba instead of the woeful Torres. The Spaniard started again in the second leg and you have to wonder who actually made that decision. Abramovich’s prized asset failed to get on the score sheet, while at the other end Hernandez (£44 million cheaper) put United ahead. El’ Nino hauled off in the interval and Drogba showed his worth. With 13 minutes to play he gave hope to the ten-man Blues, but it didn’t last long; seconds later Park Ji-Sung booked United’s place in the semis.
Completing the semi-final line up, Schalke and Barcelona surprised nobody. Schalke phenomenally won 5-2 at the San Siro in their first leg. Even the goal of the tournament so far just one minute in from Stankovic wasn’t enough to halt the German side that took Inter to pieces, following it up with a 2-1 win on home soil, 7-3 on aggregate!
Barcelona were in typically punishing mood when Shakhtar Donetsk came to visit in the first leg of their quarter final. The only surprise here was Lionel Messi’s failure to score in the 5-1 rout. The little Argentinian put it right in the second leg however; his 43rd minute goal was enough to secure the win, can’t imagine many people tuned in for this enthralling encounter!
So is it worth us getting excited about this year’s semi-finals? Of course it is! United won’t find it easy when they travel to Schalke, the threat of Raul could leave them with it all to do at Old Trafford. No doubt Mourinho will have something up his sleeve for Barca, and he’s going to need it if he wants to prevent a repeat of the 5-0 hiding they received earlier in the season.
The dream final has to be United vs. Barca. It’s difficult to see anyone beating Guardiola’s boys right now but if anyone is up to the task then it’s a fully-fit United at Wembley! Ferdinand and Vidic will have to be fit and United’s fans need to make it feel like Old Trafford.
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