In many ways it was a wild finish to the Round of 16 and it’s not done yet! We still have the second leg of the Liverpool – Internazionale tie on Tuesday, March 11th.
FC Schalke 04 overcame some poor form of recent days to pull off a thrilling shootout win over 2004 winners FC Porto. Keeper Manuel Neuer was Schalke’s hero, capping an outstanding man-of-the-match display with two penalty saves as the Bundesliga side go through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time ever. Schalke were under pressure for large portions of the match. The pace and trickery of Bosingwa and Quaresma beat the Schalke defenders regularly but Porto were unable to find to get anything past Neuer.
The match looked to be done with eight minutes to go and Porto still trailing by a goal in the aggregate scoreline. Fucile was red-carded after a late challenge on Kobiashvili, yet López had not read the script. Four minutes later he received the ball from Lucho with his back to goal, turned and rifled high into the net via the underside of the crossbar to send the Dragão wild. Those hopes would soon be dashed by Neuer’s penalty saves and Schalke’s composure from the spot.
There were two slight shocks as Arsenal easily dispatched AC Milan, though I personally was not surprised by the result, and Roma dispatched Real Madrid. Arsenal’s central midfield pairing of Fabregas and Flamini were dynamic in helping shut down Kaka and Ambrossini but credit must also be given to Arsenals outside backs – Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy. Both worked tirelessly up and down the flanks defending strongly and smartly picking their spots to push forward.
Despite winning 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico two weeks ago, Roma were widely considered as outsiders against the Spanish champions heading into the second leg. With a lead, Roma were able to sit back and play a patient game, waiting to hit Madrid on the counter-attack. Both sides had plenty of scoring chances but the game remained scoreless well into the second half thanks to some timely saves by the goalkeepers. The momentum swung Roma’s way when Pepe saw red (after a second yellow card) for the hosts on 71 minutes. Roma went on to break the deadlock through Taddei just two minutes later. Raúl then equalised, only for Mirko Vucinic to seal Madrid’s fate in added time.
The most thrilling matches of the round came from the Sevilla – Fenerbahçe matchup. I had a real hard time choosing a clear winner prior to the start of the round and ultimately the two sides needed a penalty shootout to decider a winner. Both teams have been overshadowed in this competition by more glamorous names but I don’t think any of the big clubs were relishing being paired with either of these clubs. After the first leg in Istanbul finished 3-2 in facor of the hosts, I did not expect another high-scoring match but that’s what we were treated to.
Volkan Demirel turned from villain to hero to send Fenerbahçe SK into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time, saving three spot-kicks after hosts Sevilla FC had reversed the 3-2 scoreline from the first leg. Demirel was beaten by two long range efforts that it looked like he should have done better on. Those two goals allowed Sevilla to take the lead on aggregate and forced Fenerbahçe to step up their efforts. Brazilian midfield maestro Deivid scored twice to keep the Turkish sides hopes alive. In the shootout, Escude, Maresca and Alves all failed to score for Sevilla while the Fenerbahçe shooters were cooler and more efficient, missing only once.
In other scores, Manchester United advanced after defeating Lyon 1-0 at home in a lacklustre match. Barcelona eased past Celtic also by claiming a 1-0 victory at home. However, Barcelona’s win came at a high cost. Lionel Messi left the field in tears after being subbed off with a hamstring injury in the first-half. He is expected to miss at least six weeks. Chelsea had no problems seeing off Olympiacos with a 3-0 score in the second leg after the first leg ended in a scoreless draw.