United and Barca cruise into last four
Manchester United and Barcelona wrapped up their places in the Champions League semifinals on Tuesday as they progressed at the expense of Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk respectively.
United earned their place in the last four for the fourth time in five seasons with a 2-1 success over Chelsea—who ended the match with 10-men after Ramires was sent-off in the second half—and a 3-1 triumph on aggregate which will heap the pressure on the losers’ manager Carlo Ancelotti.
United—whose goals came from Javier Hernandez and Korean Park Ji-Sung—will play either Schalke 04 or holders Inter Milan, with the Italian side requiring a miracle in Germany on Wednesday as they trail 5-2.
Barcelona inflicted the first home defeat in European competition on 2009 Uefa Cup winners Shakhtar since they lost to Sporting Lisbon in October, 2008 as Lionel Messi scored the only goal of the game to seal a 6-1 aggregate victory.
Messi’s goal, his 48th of the campaign and yet another landmark for the two-time world player of the year as it is a club record for a season, sets them up for a likely semifinal with bitter domestic rivals Real Madrid, who take a 4-0 lead to Spurs in Wednesday’s second leg clash.
Ancelotti had got the better of Ferguson and United twice before in the competition when in charge of AC Milan but apart from the opening 25 minutes there was little to suggest he would make it three.
Ferguson believes that United’s form is an ominous sign for their opponents as they attempt to do the treble of the league title, FA Cup and Champions League.
“You can see the momentum that this team is building up at the moment,” said the 69-year-old Scot.
“I think we’ve hit our form. The two matches against Chelsea and the league win over West Ham [a 4-2 win] shows that.”
Ancelotti was gracious in a defeat that all but ensures—barring a miraculous run of results in the league—they will finish trophyless this season, not something Russian owner Roman Abramovich will appreciate.
“We had good control of the game in the first 25 minutes but failed to take our chances,” admitted Ancelotti.
“We have to move on from this and ensure we finish in the top four [a Champions League spot].”
We have to get Torres’s passion back
Ancelotti’s decision to start with the misfiring Fernando Torres was an abject failure as the Spanish striker spent more time arguing with the referee than in the opponent’s penalty area and is now 11 hours without a goal since signing from Liverpool.
However, Ancelotti insisted there was no question of ditching the Spaniard, who has looked out of sorts since an underwhelming World Cup finals campaign for him personally last year.
“We have to get him to believe and to get his passion back,” said Ancelotti.
It was no surprise that Ancelotti brought on Didier Drogba for Torres at half time but the damage had been done with Hernandez’s first-half goal after fine work by Ryan Giggs and John O’Shea having separated the sides.
Chelsea’s task became all but impossible in the 70th minute as Ramires received his marching orders for a second bookable offence after clumsily clattering into Nani from behind.
Drogba gave them hope of pulling off a remarkable win in the 77th minute but their hopes were dashed a minute later as another sublime pass by Giggs found Park and he shot past Cech into the far corner.
“It’s remarkable Park’s record of goals in important matches,” purred Ferguson.
Barcelona could afford to sit back and allow Shakhtar come at them but the hosts were unable to convert any of several chances early on and were punished on the stroke of half-time as Messi latched onto a fortunate rebound from a home defender and slotted the ball home.—Sapa-AFP.