Barcelona edge City to march into quarters

AFP, BARCELONA, Spain

Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - Page 20

Second-half goals from Lionel Messi and Dani Alves booked Barcelona’s place in the Champions League quarter-finals for a seventh consecutive year as they beat Manchester City 2-1 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday to progress 4-1 on aggregate.

City were looking to become the first side to come back from losing the first leg 2-0 at home in the Champions League era and they had chances to reduce the deficit as Victor Valdes denied Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko either side of halftime.

However, Messi killed the tie as a contest with 23 minutes remaining as he pounced on a loose ball inside the area to flick home his eighth Champions League goal of the season.

The visitors were then reduced to 10 men as Pablo Zabaleta was shown a second yellow card for dissent after Dzeko looked to have a legitimate penalty claim waved away by French referee Stephane Lannoy.

Vincent Kompany looked to have salvaged at least a draw for City on the night when he tapped home a minute from time, but Alves restored Barca’s lead from Andres Iniesta’s cut-back in stoppage time.

Barca had come into the game under huge pressure having lost twice in their last three La Liga games, but Messi insisted they will return to their former glory in the coming weeks.

“We knew that we had to score to kill the tie off and once we did in the second half, there was no more danger in the tie,” he told Spanish TV station Canal Plus. “We had chances and we have gone through which is what we needed. We have had two huge slip ups in the league, above all for the way we played in those games. Soon, we will return to being the Barca that we want to be and people are waiting to see.”

It was a different feeling for City captain Kompany, who felt key decisions had gone against his side.

City started on the front foot, but they were lucky not to concede a penalty on eight minutes when Messi went down under a challenge from Joleon Lescott.

City were handed another break by the officials as Neymar had a goal controversially ruled out as Jordi Alba was deemed to have been offside when he crossed for the Brazilian to finish.

With City still needing two goals to even force extra time, they were dealt a blow as the injured Sergio Aguero had to be replaced by Dzeko at the break.

Messi came within inches of sealing the tie with another wonderful solo run on 50 minutes as he teased Lescott before passing the ball off the inside of the post.

City then had a couple of great chances to get back into the tie as Valdes produced a magnificent save to turn Dzeko’s towering header over the bar before Zabaleta skewed wildly wide when presented with a clear sight of goal at the back post.

The opener finally arrived when Fabregas’s intended through ball bounced off Lescott into the path of Messi and he gave Joe Hart no chance with a nonchalant finish off the outside of his left foot.

There was still more controversy to come, though, as Dzeko appeared to have been felled by Gerard Pique inside the area.

Lannoy was again unmoved and Zabaleta was dismissed for taking his protests too far as a host of City players surrounded the referee.

The English side did manage a consolation a minute from time when Kompany tapped home Dzeko’s knockdown from a corner.

However, Barca were not to be denied victory on the night as with their next attack Iniesta rounded Hart and kept his head to set up Alves to hammer home from close range.

PSG-LEVERKUSEN

AFP, PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain advanced safely into the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday, beating Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2-1 at the Parc des Princes in their last 16, second leg to take the tie 6-1 on aggregate.

Trailing 4-0 from the first leg in Germany three weeks ago, the Bundesliga club took an early lead on the night through Sidney Sam, but Marquinhos equalized soon after.

Leverkusen captain Simon Rolfes had a penalty saved before Ezequiel Lavezzi put PSG in front eight minutes into the second period, and the sending-off of Emre Can saw the visitors bow out with 10 men.

Meanwhile, Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia had praise for his team despite seeing them lose for the sixth time in their past seven matches.

No team had ever been eliminated from a European knock-out tie after winning 4-0 away in the first leg and Blanc made the most of his side’s comfortable cushion by rotating his squad, as Thiago Motta and Alex dropped to the bench.

Blaise Matuidi was rested altogether to avoid the risk of incurring a suspension for the next round.

It was still a strong PSG line-up, with Edinson Cavani starting for the first time in over a month after injury but, perhaps understandably, there was an air of complacency about the hosts early on, and Leverkusen took full advantage.

A low long-range strike by Can that was pushed around the post by Salvatore Sirigu served as a warning to the Ligue 1 leaders, although it was not heeded, and the visitors opened the scoring in the sixth minute.

A lovely move started by Rolfes on the left saw Gonzalo Castro spread the play to Giulio Donati on the right flank, and the Italian’s cross was headed home by Sam at the back post.

If that raised hopes among the boisterous traveling support that their team could pull off the most improbable of comebacks, then those hopes were short-lived, as the equalizer on the night came just seven minutes later.

After Bernd Leno saved from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Yohan Cabaye’s resulting corner from the right was met by a thumping Marquinhos header that the German ’keeper could only help on its way into the net.

It was the young Brazilian defender’s third goal in this season’s Champions League and the hosts almost went on to take the lead shortly after, but Ibrahimovic clipped his shot against the crossbar after a Cavani pass left him with just the keeper to beat.

Leverkusen’s recent form had increased the pressure on Hyypia, but they played some nice soccer in the first period and were handed the opportunity to retake the lead in the 28th minute.

When Christophe Jallet pulled back Eren Derdiyok inside the area, Croatian referee Ivan Bebek did not hesitate in pointing to the spot, and yet Rolfes saw his effort from 12 yards kept out as Sirigu made a great save diving low to his left.

Leno saved from Cavani at the other end shortly before the interval and PSG then took the lead eight minutes into the second period as Lucas Digne’s low ball from the left was fired low into the net by Lavezzi, for whom it was a fifth goal in his past six games.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men when Can was shown a second yellow card for diving midway through the second half, but they were spared greater punishment in the closing stages.