Five crucial areas that influenced flow of a nervous 90 minutes
Thursday 10 March 2011
1. Milan struggled to cope with Peter Crouch
Milan's centre-half pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva is one of the shortest around, at 6ft 2in and 6ft 0in respectively. As a result, they had no chance of beating 6ft 7in Peter Crouch in the air by fair means, so they resorted to the dark arts to get one over their rival, putting their bodies in the way to impede his leaps for the ball. It was a dangerous game, because go too far and it's a penalty. But referee Frank de Bleeckere seemed happy even though the Milan players were making little attempt to get the ball.
Crouch played a key role in keeping Milan on their toes, particularly in the first half when the Italians were dominant. He had one good chance in the first minute of the second half, but mistimed his header horribly.
2. Tottenham's boy from Brazil gets them moving
It's carnival time in Rio but in N17 last night Tottenham's Brazilian midfielder Sandro had his mind on more prosaic matters, patrolling the area in front of his back four and keeping an eye on his compatriots Robinho and Alexandre Pato.
Sandro, who is a week away from his 22nd birthday, was outstanding and played with class and maturity in the holding midfield role. One tackle especially, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was poised to launch a dangerous counter-attack, was particularly eye-catching, and put Spurs back on the front foot.
It was all a far cry from his first experience of the competition in September, when he turned up at Stansted Airport before the group game in Werder Bremen, only to hear he was not eligible having been left out of the 25-man Champions League squad. The £7m spent recruiting him from Internacional in the summer now looks like a steal.
3. Modric couldn't get into the game
Tottenham struggled to get enough of the ball in midfield, and as a result Luka Modric was starved of the possession he needs.
The Croatian playmaker instead had to drop back to help out Sandro, a task he performed willingly but at the cost of his preferred creative role. The situation improved in the second half but Milan were clearly aware that Tottenham play their best football when Modric is at the hub of it all, and they worked hard to deny him the time and space in which to operate.
4. Bale was the ideal impact substitute
Gareth Bale was only fit enough to start the game on the bench, as Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp had feared. And when he came into the game in the 66th minute, the tie was still in the balance. Milan were certainly wary of Bale's devastating pace, and when he got his first chance to run at the visitors, he found three Rossoneri lining up in front of him.
The Welshman's reputation is growing all the time in Italy, after his hat-trick in San Siro against Milan's neighbours Internazionale earlier this season and should he decide to move to Italy in the near future, this is the kind of defending he can expect to see.
5. Dawson had the measure of Ibrahimovic
Milan's Swedish striker Ibrahimovic continued his poor run of form against English clubs, thanks in no small measure to a towering display from Michael Dawson at the back for Spurs.
The centre-half, the team's captain in the absence of Ledley King, may be a relative novice at this elevated level but his decision-making about when to come and when to drop off was of the highest order.
Schalke 3-1 Valencia
Schalke progressed to the quarter-final of the Champions League after beating Valencia 3-1 at the Veltins-Arena, giving them a 4-2 win on aggregate.
Valencia took the lead against the run of play through Ricardo Costa's header after 17 minutes. But the Bundesliga team equalised five minutes before the break when the Peruvian striker Jefferson Farfan, curled in a sublime free-kick.
They took the lead early in the second half when Mario Gavranovic scored from close-range. Farfan got his second, a deft chip, three minutes into injury-time. "After going 1-0 down we had nothing more to lose so we went for it," said the Schalke coach Felix Magath, who before last night had some fans calling for his dismissal.
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