Toothless AC Milan fall to resolute Tottenham

‘BONUS’::Although AC Milan dominated the first half, the goalless draw made surprise contenders Tottenham the first English side through to the last eight this season

Reuters, LONDON

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 - Page 20

AC Milan failed to produce the flair that made them seven-time European champions and were eliminated from the Champions League by Tottenham Hotspur after a 0-0 draw put the English side through 1-0 on Wednesday.

Spurs advanced to the quarter-finals after another night of unrelenting tension at White Hart Lane and the London club’s unlikely adventure among Europe’s elite continued.

Milan’s big-name players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Alexandre Pato and the evergreen Clarence Seedorf fought non-stop, but despite creating the better chances they failed to make the last eight for the fourth consecutive season.

Spurs, who won 1-0 at the San Siro with a late Peter Crouch goal, could not press home their advantage, but the Premier League side gave a resolute defensive performance to reach the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier competition for the first time since getting to the European Cup semis in 1962.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for this club, playing in the Champions League for the first time in our history. To have beaten Inter Milan in the group stage and now AC Milan, well anything else is a bonus now, just being in the Champions League is a bonus,” Spurs manager Harry Redknapp told reporters. “Two years ago no-one would have believed we could do this, that’s the improvement we have made.”

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said he was “very, very disappointed” his side lost.

“I thought we played very well, we made all the chances, the -players worked very hard and the only mistake we made is that we did not score a goal and that’s what we have been punished for,” he said. “So from tomorrow morning we will focus on winning the Serie A title. I think we deserved more, because apart from the first half of the first leg we were the better team.”

He also defended the performance of Ibrahimovic after being criticized by Italian journalists as being the worst player in the Milan side.

“He is a great player. He played very well tonight, brought his teammates into the play and worked very hard, but if I have any regrets, it’s that we deserved more out of the tie. I feel bitter about that,” he said.

Redknapp conceded that Spurs were outplayed in midfield, but he praised his young Brazilian defensive midfielder Sandro.

Sandro, 21, provided much of the steel Spurs needed to repel Milan’s attacks, but when they got past him, central defenders William Gallas and Michael Dawson held firm and goalkeeper Heuerlho Gomes, despite one or two typically eccentric flaps, gave a largely assured performance.

Spurs were the first English team through to the last eight this season following Arsenal’s defeat by Barcelona. Chelsea and Manchester United are still in contention for quarter-final places.

Milan dominated the first half with Spurs penned in their own half for long periods, but were thankful to Gomes and Gallas that they were not trailing at the interval.

Gomes stretched to save a goalbound shot from Ibrahimovic after 15 minutes and did well to save from Pato just past the half hour.

However, he was lucky that Gallas was on hand to save his embarrassment after 26 minutes when he was rounded by Pato whose cross found Robinho.

The Brazilian did not shoot cleanly, his effort looping off defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s back and was seemingly goalbound until Gallas hooked it clear from under the bar.

Spurs tactic of high balls played up to Crouch from winger Aaron Lennon, did not bring any tangible rewards even though the Milan defense struggled at times to cope with them and the London side’s best chances fell to Rafael Van der Vaart.

He poked a half-chance wide after only two minutes and sent a free kick just over Christian Abbiati’s bar.

Milan, needing just one goal to take the tie into extra time, almost achieved that in stoppage time when Robinho sent a shot fizzing just over the bar.

SCHALKE 2, VALENCIA 1

Reuters, GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany

Schalke 04’s Jefferson Farfan went some way to winning over fans who had labeled him a mercenary by scoring twice to send the team into the Champions League -quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Only a few months ago the 26-year-old Peruvian, who has had a rollercoaster relationship with coach Felix Magath, was desperate to leave the club and was criticized by fans after arriving late for their winter training camp in Turkey.

After the attacking midfielder struck twice to send Schalke through with a 3-1 victory over Valencia on Wednesday, and a 4-2 win on aggregate, there were no whistles or jeers from fans who had previously branded him ungrateful and a mercenary.

“Two goals. That is very good, but I am just happy the team is through, that is the most important thing,” said Farfan, who has also had his share of problems with the Peru national team from which he has been suspended in the past. “I hope I gave our fans something to smile about.”

He certainly did when he first canceled out Ricardo Costa’s lead with a curled free kick minutes before the break and with Schalke on the back foot for most of the first half.

His speed down the wing kept causing problems as the German team looked dangerous on the counter attack.

Farfan, who joined Schalke in 2008, made sure of their fourth win in four home games in the -competition this season when he chipped the ball over Valencia keeper Vicente Guaita to make it 3-1 in stoppage time after a nervy final few minutes.

“I am proud with how my players outplayed a top quality national team,” coach Magath said. “We showed we are better when we face top teams.”