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Tuesday night witnessed one of the most epic comebacks in Barça history. Things looked bleak after the 2-0 reverse at the San Siro, but AC Milan were simply no match for the Catalans tonight, who blitzed the Italians to the tune of a 4-0 victory to progress into the last eight of the Champions League. Many had serious doubts about Barça’s hopes of making it into the semi finals for the sixth year in a row, but it only took a matter of minutes for the Camp Nou faithful to truly believe that they were about to witness something very special. Right from the outset, the home side clearly looked confident that they could turn this tie around, and with the fans convinced of that too, it only took five minutes for Messi to find the net. Despite a serious scare when Niang hit the post, Milan were unrecognisable from the team that had caused Barça so many problems in the first leg, and when Messi thundered home his second of the night, it already looked like curtains for the Milanese.
Villa made it three after the break to finally put Barça in full command, and Alba made sure of qualification with his injury time goal. The fact the game ended 4-0 is particularly satisfying, because it was precisely by that score that Milan handed Barça one of the club’s most painful defeats ever in the Athens final of 1994.
Many voices have been doubting Barça in recent weeks, but the critics were soon silenced by the blistering way that they started tonight, immediately throwing everything at a Milan side that wasn’t given a moment to think. The visitors had barely touched the ball or built up any kind of momentum when Messi stunned Abbiati with a brilliantly placed strike that took so much wind out of Milan that they never really recovered.
Iniesta hits the bar
Barça were playing with Villa at centre forward and Pedro and Alves opening up the field for Messi and Iniesta to conduct the orchestra from the centre, a task they delivered to absolute perfection. It was the latter who finished off the second major opportunity of the night, a strike that Abbiati somehow managed to nudge onto the bar, and Messi was unfortunate not to convert the rebound. It looked like the Milan keeper was in for a busy night.
Niang hits post, Messi scores
Barça continued to go out and out in search of a second goal, but there was always the danger that the Serie A side would manage to make something out of the space that was being left behind them. And that is precisely what happened following a Barça corner, when a rapid counter attack ended with Niang face to face with Valdés. The Camp Nou fell silent as the ball looked to be headed goalward, but instead it hit the post, and just seconds later concern became jubilation as Messi made it 2-0 with an absolute peach of a goal from the edge of the area, an almost exact replica of the one he put past Van der Sar at Wembley in 2011. A non-stop first half had ended with the game back to all-square on aggregate. It was now a question of ten minutes rest and then going out to finish the job.
Villa tips the balance
AC Milan were forced to change their tactics in the second half. It would no longer do just to sit back and defend, and the increased pressure in midfield made it harder for Barça to develop their natural passing game. The smallest of errors from Busquets, Mascherano or Piqué could prove fatal, because a Milan goal would leave FCB needing two more. So Barça were more cautious in their efforts to find a third goal, but when Mascherano brilliantly recovered the ball deep in the Milan half and laid it off to Xavi, who in turn found Villa, and the Asturian struck home, Barça could finally start enjoying themselves.
Alba seals the deal
But not too much. There was no doubt which was the better side, but it wasn’t quite all over yet. In only 55 minutes, Barça may have not just cancelled out Milan’s two goals from the first leg, but also added another of their own, but there was still the nagging fear that the ‘rossoneri’ could snatch one back. And a solitary Milan goal would still be enough to send them through by virtue of the away goals rule. Robinho and former Barça man Bojan were sent on to add some much needed verve to the Italian attack, but time was running out, and they weren’t helping matters with some shockingly sloppy errors.
With the game well into injury time, Milan made an absolute mess of a potentially devastating free kick opportunity, and were caught napping on the counter attack, with Jordi Alba slipping home the goal that made it 4-0 and confirmed that Barça will be one of this season’s Champions League quarter finalists. There has been much said in recent weeks about Barça’s magnificent era approaching its end. Tonight, however, they were back to their old selves, and will be the team everybody will be hoping to avoid in Friday’s draw. Crisis? What crisis? The greatest team ever just got greater!
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