|photo by RiyAdh - M!s$||via PhotoRee|
Wednesday night began with AC Milan never having lost a European quarterfinal match at home. When the dust had settled on Barcelona's visit to the northern portion of the Italian peninsula, although the home side's record had been tested, it was still intact. To Milan for our game report:
The opening gambit was fast and furious at both ends: Robinho misfired for the Italians on a point blank opportunity as the game opened, the Brazilian betrayed by his own touch. At the other end, Barcelona wunderkind Lionel Messi was betrayed only by the Italian-laid pitch, which stopped the diminutive Argentine from grabbing an early advantage for his side.
When Milan 'keeper Abbiati felled Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez, all eyes turned expectantly toward the Swedish officiating crew, but the penalty shout was denied. If further evidence was needed that a goal from the visitors might soon be forthcoming, it came in the form on a slightly offside Messi tapping the ball behind Abbiati: while the crowd gasped, however, the scoreboard remained unchanged.
Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic flubbed his lines during an early attempt to play a starring role in the evening's festivities, the enigmatic Swede shooting straight at Victor Valdes when a more creative offering would have found the net. While Barcelona controlled the lion's share of possession and dictated the game's tempo, their Italian hosts remained just dangerous enough that neither side's supporters could be comfortable throughout an engaging but scoreless first half.
The second half featured more of the same, the Catalans knocking on the Italians' door, but the Milanese making sure the door bolt -- il cantenaccio -- was tightly secured. On the rare occasions the home side did possess the ball, Ibrahimovic cut an increasingly frustrated figure, his inability to stay onside bringing a quick end to the hosts' offensive
While Barcelona continued to prod and probe, the Italians grew stronger as the second half progressed. Barca's Captain, Carles Puyol, came closest to breaking the deadlock, his flying effort hampered by his own inaccuracy and a helping -- or more accurately, holding -- Italian hand. But in the end a determined and disciplined Milan was too much for the visitors to overcome, a rare blank shot by the Catalan marksmen.
Although the home side likely will take some sustenance from keeping Barcelona off the scoreboard, the positive feelings created by the effort will quickly turn to naught if they are unable to repeat the feat in six days' time. And if Milan is able to accomplish the same feat again, this time at the Camp Nou, that would genuinely be something to write home about.
This is farlieonfootie for March 29.
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