The Champions League quarter final second leg 2011/12 will go down in history as one of Barcelona’s most magical nights in Europe. It was a tactically rich and intensely gripping encounter, in which Barça’s stylish football, ambitious game-plan and domination of possession overcome a gallant Milan side to qualify for the semi finals. For the fifth time in a row! The Catalans scored three times in doing so, but with a bit more fortune in front of goal, the margin could easily have been even wider.
Early goal, the ideal start
Everything was still up in the air after the goalless draw at the Giuseppe Meazza. As expected, Milan continued with the conservative tactics that had earned them that draw in the first leg, while Barça, also as expected, went straight out and attacked. As always. Guardiola even risked a three-man defence, something very few managers would ever choose to do at such a crucial stage of this competition, fielding Alves and (surprisingly) Cuenca as his full backs.
With the Camp Nou more vociferous than ever, the home side got off to a blistering start. Only six minutes had passed and Messi had already had two wonderful chances, and was brought down in the area when he was about to attempt the third. The referee pointed to the sport, the Argentinian made no mistake, and Barça were in the lead after just ten minutes.
Barça respond quickly to Milan leveller
Barça were able to relax after getting the all-important goal. They kept things tight, always playing as a unit, and with Busquets in particular shining in midfield. Milan, meanwhile, almost looked divided in two: the strikers (Robinho, Boateng and Ibrahimovic), and the defenders (the rest). In the 32nd minute, Ibra found space and laid the ball on for Nocerino, who beat Valdés with an angled strike. It had been their first serious threat of the whole game, and the goal and such effectiveness stunned the Camp Nou. But the crowd wasn’t going to have to suffer for long…
Milan immediately responded by tightening their defence, while Barça continued playing football the only way they know and were soon back in the lead following a penalty awarded for a tug on Busquets’ shirt in the area, a decision the Milan players disputed intensely. Messi once again beat Abbiati from the spot, the third time he has done so in this edition of the Champions League. Immediately afterwards, it was Guardiola’s turn to modify his tactics in what sometimes resembled a game of human chess, as he reverted to a more traditional 4-3-3 system.
Iniesta extends the lead
The defending champions were just as dominant after the break, although Milan always looked dangerous on the counter attack. But it was actually a Barça counter that led to the home side’s third goal of the evening. Messi led the move, and managed to get the ball to Iniesta, who finished things off in exquisite fashion.
The crowd could breathe at last. With a two goal cushion, the songs were more positive than ever, and one of the most impressive moments came when the home fans offered a generous ovation to veteran Clarence Seedorf when he was substituted in the 60th minute. Barça had started enjoying themselves, and looked reasonably home and dry, but the Milanese outfit never let their heads drop, and proudly battled on to keep Barça on their toes right until the end, even though things got increasingly more desperate for the visitors as every minute went by.
In the 68th minute, Thiago, who had come on for Xavi, came frustratingly close to making it four, and shortly after came the most negative moment of the night when an injured Piqué called to be substituted. Keen to avoid any other nasty surprises, Barça expertly managed the clock while also managing to create a series of late half chances. But little did it matter. More than deserved qualification for the semi finals was by now a certainty. One night more of Barça magic at the Camp Nou has taken the team into the semi finals for the fifth time in a row, and now all they have to do is wait until tomorrow to find out whether they will be playing Benfica or Chelsea.