Into the semis in style (0-1)
Barça made it into the semi finals of the Champions League without having to suffer for it by winning 1-0 away to Shakhtar. A Messi goal before the break banished any fears of the Ukrainians putting together a comeback. Barça stayed solid and made sure of their Champions League semi final place in convincing fashion.
With the safety net of the 5-1 win at the Camp Nou beneath them, they dealt with the situation intelligently. Once the early flurry from an enthusiastic Shakhtar had been nullified, they settled into their trademark possession game and a 43rd minute goal from an outstanding Leo Messi coupled with some extraordinary saves from Victor Valdés meant it was plain sailing through to the final whistle. All five senses Memories of the cup tie with Betis on their mind, Barça defended tight as the Ukrainians came flying at them in search of an early goal to refuel their dying European dream.
But the game in Donetsk was very different to the one in Seville, to a large extent because Guardiola was risking nothing and sent out his first-choice eleven. But things could have been different had Valdés not produced a point-blank save in front of Douglas Costa in the 8th minute, the first, but most spectacular, of his many interventions. Shakhtar were piling on the pressure, to the extent that we occasionally witnessed the unusual sight of FCB opting for long punts of the ball up to the forwards. Settling down But as the clock ticked by, Barça started getting back to the game they know and love, and tried their first few pops on goal, from long range at first, and then from closer, with Rakitskiy clearing an Adriano effort off the line and goalkeeper Pyatov preventing Messi from scoring with a cheeky chip. Just before the break, Messi got his revenge with a terrific piece of control, followed by tricky run that he finished off by finding the net to make it 1-0.
That was the 48th goal of the season for the top scorer in the Champions League. Time to rest The magnificent Donbass Arena had less thrills to enjoy in the second half. Shakhtar’s distant ray of hope was gone, and Barça opted not to do any more than they really had to. With some big games around the corner, the Catalans wanted as calm a game as they could get, and with Mascherano playing colossal football at centre back and Valdés as inspired as ever, they had little to worry about. Guardiola even opted to take off Piqué, Xavi and Villa, clearly with other matches in mind. Moreno almost managed to pull one back for the home side in the 83rd minute with a heroic leap, but he failed to find the target.
This was never going to be anything but Barça’s day, and they’re back in the Champions League semi finals for the fourth season in a row. Preview United-Chelsea at Old TraffordTonight’s other quarter final sees Manchester United take in Chelsea at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Fergusson’s team take a 1-0 lead into the game from the first leg last week courtesy of the irrepressible Wayne Rooney. The winner of the tie will play Schalke or Inter in the other half of the draw and neither Barça nor Shakhtar can meet them until the final. Objective: a semi final slotRoger Bogunyà Barça are in Donetsk tonight (20.45 R@dio Barça) with the sole intention of sealing a place in the Champions League semi finals against a Shakhtar team who are much more dangerous than the 5-1 result in the first leg might suggest.
Donetsk is at the heart of the principal coal producing region of Ukraine, but Barça will be mining for the gold that goes with a semi final spot in the Champions League for what will be their fourth consecutive season. The 5-1 win in the first leg at the Nou Camp should give Guardiola’s team the edge as they go into the return game at the impressive Donbass Arena, a stadium that demands total concentration and focus from the Barça players if they are to avoid any Shakhtar fightback.
Result hides impressive Shakhtar effort Shakhtar’s performance at the Nou Camp six days ago, in truth deserved more and they created plenty of chances for themselves to show why they have had such a successful European season. That makes the 5-1 win even more impressive and important for Guardiola’s team as they bid to march on in the competition. No repeat of Betis scare Barça are well aware of the dangers of relaxing and sitting back on that lead though –with the experience in the Spanish Cup against Betis clear in their mind. On that occasion, the Andalucian team were 5-0 down from the first leg , but gave Barça a fright with two early goals in the second game in Seville. The objective tonight has to be to avoid any such perils.
With Puyol, Bojan and Abidal all injured and Iniesta suspended, Guardiola has taken a squad of 20 for the game , with 16 first team squad players and 4 from the B team. Shakhtar selection woes Shakhtar are also without some key players, with five defenders -Chygrinski, Kucher, Chyzov, Srna and the suspended Rat likely to be missing, as well as the striker Luiz Adriano, who started at the Nou Camp, but although the Shakhtar team may have an unfamiliar look to it tonight, they are certain to give Guardiola’s team a tough test.