Champions League comes down to the Fab Four

Then there were four; after a dramatic week of Champions League action, we now know which four teams will contest the semi-finals of European football’s premier club competition.

MESSI SHOWS HIS HUMAN SIDE AS BARCELONA CRASH OUT

Lionel Messi is only human! That was the verdict after Barcelona’s defence of their Champions League title ended in Madrid on Wednesday evening. A 2-0 defeat to Atletico on the night, saw the holders eliminated 3-2 on aggregate to a side that will now be confident of reaching their second final in two years. Diego Simeone’s team smothered the Catalan giants over 180 minutes of tense, competitive football and after French striker Antoine Griezmann had given the hosts a first-half lead at the Vicente Calderon, the writing was on the wall for Luis Enrique’s team. Messi looked out of sorts, but then so did the whole team and it’s been like that since their Clasico defeat to Real Madrid two-weeks ago. A penalty converted by Griezmann late on put the match beyond any doubt. Madrid’s other team may not have the flair and swagger of their city rivals, but they have a team spirit that’s good enough to make them believe they can win the trophy for the first time in their history.

RONALDO SHOW LEAVES WOLFSBURG DOWN AND OUT

Another day, another scintillating display from Cristiano Ronaldo as he picked up his 37th hat-trick for Real Madrid; cometh the hour, cometh the man and CR7 delivered on the big stage once again. Trailing 2-0 from the first-leg in Germany, the betting exchanges were made to pay, quite literally, as Ronaldo single-handedly cancelled out the German’s advantage before half-time. After the interval and with the match in the balance, the hosts were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Wolfsburg penalty area. Up stepped the great man himself, cue delirium in the Santiago Bernabeu as the dream of lifting their 11th Champions League title continues. Los Blancos now join Barcelona as the team with the most Champions League semi-final appearances.

 

PSG STARING AT A BLANC CANVAS

PSG were supposed to win the Champions League this season. That was the remit of club president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi anyway, but that dream was destroyed at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday evening as Manchester City eliminated the club from the French capital. Both legs of this particular contest has been riddled with mistakes, unfortunately for the Parisian’s, they made the most and paid the ultimate price. With the score tied at 2-2 after the first-leg at the Parc des Princes, the Premier League side were favourites on the best football betting sites to progress. PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who missed a penalty in the first meeting which set the tone for the entire contest, declared that his side would not be as wasteful again in Manchester. He was true to his word however, except that his team hardly ever put the ball in positions were they could be wasteful, such was their lethargic display. After City striker Sergio Aguero had replicated Ibrahimovic by missing a first-half penalty, the fear of losing overtook the desire to take a chance on winning the game. One moment of second-half magic from Belgian international Kevin De Bruyne, won the match and the tie for the Citizens, to take them into their first ever semi-final. Ibrahimovic may have lost his final chance to be a Champions League winner.

 

BAYERN MUNICH CONQUER THE CAULDRON OF LISBON

Bayern Munich headed to Portugal to face Benfica carrying a slender 1-0 lead from the first-leg in Germany. The Portuguese side felt they could still turn the tie on its head in front of their fanatical fans at the Estadio do Sport in Lisbon. When Raúl Jiménez gave the home side the lead after 27 minutes, it seemed as though the shock could well and truly happen, but when Chilean Arturo Vidal levelled for the Germans just nine minutes later, what had been a cauldron of noise went eerily silent as the realisation by the Benfica supporters that they were going to be eliminated, slowly started to hit home. Seven minutes after the interval, Thomas Muller extinguished any lingering doubts and coach Pep Guardiola could look forward to taking the club into their fifth consecutive Champions League semi-final. The host did manage to maintain their impressive home record in the competition, thanks to a late equaliser from Talisca, but that was scant consolation on what was ultimately, a disappointing night for the Eagles of Lisbon.

 

WHO WILL MAKE THE FINAL IN MILAN?

The four remaining contenders will discover their fate on Friday when UEFA make the draw for the semi-finals. All four representatives will be confident they can reach the final in Milan next month. Manchester City are the only one of the four who’ve never played in a Champions League semi-final and they will start as outsiders.

 

Bayern Munich are slight favourites ahead of the draw, closely followed by Real Madrid and city rivals Atletico. The first-leg of the semi-final ties will take place on the 26-27 April with the return legs being played the following week on 3-4 May. The final is at the San Siro in Milan on May 28.

Steve Mitchell

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