Lionel Messi set new record as AC Milan pay the penalties in Barcelona
Barcelona 3 Milan 1 (Barca win 3-1 on aggregate)
Wednesday 04 April 2012
London is calling again for Barcelona after they beat Milan last night to become the first team to reach five straight Champions League semi-finals.
Andres Iniesta sparked a baby boom in Catalonia when he scored the late goal that won their last semi-final at Stamford Bridge in 2009. Last night he dedicated his third goal to his own baby daughter, Valeria, who was celebrating her first birthday.
"I am happy to be in the semi-finals again, It was a tough game against a great side but we came through," Iniesta said. Asked about a trip back to Chelsea, he said: "I would fancy that".
It was his strike that calmed the holders' nerves after two first-half penalties from Lionel Messi had failed to kill off the tie with Antonio Nocerino scoring for Milan. Messi's two goals took made it 14 goals in the competition for the season, breaking his own Champions League record in the process.
Messi's start to the game had been uncharacteristically nervous. He shot straight at goalkeeper Christian Abbiati with 19-year-old surprise starter Isaac Cuenca better placed to his left and then inexplicably pulled the ball back to Xavi Hernandez when better placed himself having dispossessed Ignazio Abate and raced clear.
Xavi could not reach that Messi pass and when Iniesta's subsequent shot was blocked the ball came out to Barcelona's No 10 and he was brought down by Luca Antonini for a penalty. Messi had only ever scored once against Italian teams in over nine hours of football – but beat Abbiati's dive to put Barcelona ahead.
Cesc Fabregas could then have made it two when fed by Cuenca, who was stretching Milan's rearguard out on the left-hand touchline. Milan had looked dangerous on the break, however, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting away from Gerard Pique's lunging tackle only to shoot wide in the first five minutes and on 32 minutes he set up the equaliser.
Robinho beat Javier Mascherano and he found the Swede who played in Nocerino to finish calmly past Victor Valdes. Pep Guardiola's pre-match prediction that Milan would score had proved correct.
Yet the Catalan side were then given a gift by the Italians. Alessandro Nesta pulled at Sergi Busquets shirt at a corner and referee Bjorn Kulpers pointed to the spot again for Messi to restore Barça's advantage.
It was a generous decision and there was even applause as the referee left the pitch at half time. Barça were grateful for the break and they got another one at the start of the second half when Dani Alves appeared to bring down Robinho.
Barcelona got the third on 53 minutes when Messi's shot was blocked and Iniesta dispatched the loose ball. It was not quite as dramatic as that Stamford Bridge piledriver but it set him up for a likely London return.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique (Adriano, 75), Mascherano, Puyol; Xavi (Thiago, 63), Busquets, Fabregas (Keita, 78); Cuenca, Messi, Iniesta. Substitutes not used Pinto, Sanchez, Pedro, Tello.
Milan (4-3-3): Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Nesta, Antonini; Seedorf (Aquilani, 61), Ambrosini, Nocerino; Ibrahimovic, Boateng (Alexandre Pato, 70; Maxi Lopez 83), Robinho. Substitutes not used Amelia, Bonera, Emanuelson, Yepes.
Referee B Kuipers (Netherlands).
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