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Tense times ahead for all
Four semi-finals in European competitions and not one team managed to win any of the games.
Due to the nuances of the away goals rule, favourites have been made for the second leg but each team has a genuine chance of making it to the respective finals.
There was not much hope held out for Liverpool versus Chelsea being a classic but it turned out to be a more exciting match than most had expected. With the teams conjuring up just three goals in their previous semi-final ties, it was perhaps a blessed relief that this game managed two goals. It is fair to say though that the Liverpool team and fans would have been much happier without the second goal.
Why Did He Not Kick It?
When you consider how much John Arne Riise gets paid (his payslip was placed on the internet for all to see and most people know his earnings), ikt is absolutely ludicrous that he has no faith in his right foot. Not every player has the ability to play with both feet but if you’re defending your own 6 yard box in injury time, you clear the ball in the simplest manner. His post-match comments may suggest he has the mental strength to bounce back but Riise is likely to be haunted by his decision to head the cross away. Even watching on television, it took a few seconds to realize that the ball had squirmed its way into the back of the net and Chelsea had been given an unlikely lifeline.
Up until this point, things were looking good for Liverpool. Chelsea started the better team and held much of the possession but as the first half wore on, Liverpool’s dominance became stronger. On the stroke of half-time, a few Chelsea players were guilty of making mistakes and losing possession cheaply and they were punished by Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt may have his critics but he is an honest and industrious player and has scored a few important goals for the team now. In the second half, Petr Cech was keeping his side in the match but the events of injury time have placed the Londoners in the driving seat for the second leg.
The All-England tie ending in stalemate was no surprise but for most neutrals, the focus was on the Barcelona versus Manchester United tie. Being swayed by the usual flowing football performed by both teams had many looking forward to a mouth-watering encounter but semi-finals are not the place for silky skills. The fear of losing tends to dominate proceedings and whilst there were talking points, there wasn’t much of great note.
Early Miss Nullifies United
It was a brave decision by the referee to award Manchester United a penalty so early on in the match but it was the correct decision and all eyes were on Ronaldo as he nervously placed the ball on the spot. The Portuguese star certainly lacked his usual sense of arrogance and it wasn’t the biggest surprise when he placed the ball wide and Barcelona had received a major let-off. An away goal so early would have had a monumental impact on the tie but it seemed to take the stuffing out of United. From here on, it was virtually one-way traffic as a toothless Barcelona pawed away at United’s restructured backline with no great result.
The best effort came when Henry unleashed a swerving shot that Van Der Sar managed to beat out but that aside, the game petered out and left the second leg with it all to play for.
Its still all to play for in both ties but at the end of the Camp Nou game, Sky’s commentators let out an interesting take on proceedings. Chelsea were installed as favourites for their tie but Manchester United were tipped to beat Barcelona at home even though they failed to get an away goal. It's funny how they were trying to apply the same logic to both ties but had to twist their conclusions to suit the answers they wanted to offer. The fact of the matter is if Barcelona score then Manchester United have to score two to go through and it would be a brave man to suggest that Barcelona will have no opportunity to score at Old Trafford.
Will Anti-Football Win The Day?
The flaws in Sky’s predictions have also been shown with the reaction to Rangers latest triumph in defensive football against Fiorentina. With a 0-0 score at Ibrox, an away goal in Italy will make Rangers strong favourites for the tie and leaving Fiorentina needing to score two goals against a team who will have 10 men behind the ball. Things certainly weren’t pretty at Ibrox and the home crowd’s frustration was highlighted by the booing that greeted a pass-back to the goalkeeper when Rangers started off the move with a corner. There was one shot of note in the game from Adrian Mutu and whilst Fiorentina are more than capable of winning at home to Rangers, the away form of the Scottish team indicates this is no certainty.
It is not very often that an Italian team is the more attack-minded in a European tie but the tactics of Rangers this season have been cautious beyond belief. However, the results obtained are all the vindication required and Walter Smith will be extremely proud of his team’s achievements. That said most neutral observers will be praying for a Fiorentina victory to offer hope that entertaining football can triumph over mind-numbingly defensive tactics.
The other semi-final tie was also intriguing and yet again Bayern Munich face a tricky away day if they want to reach the final. They showed against Getafe that they can triumph against the odds but perhaps they used all their luck up in that round. A Frank Ribery goal where he followed up on a saved penalty gave Bayern the lead but a Lucio own goal squared the tie and handed Zenit St Petersburg a vital away goal. It’s funny how the two ties that ended 1-1 were squared by an own-goal but its fair to say that neither home team was laughing.
All To Play For
With the class of Bayern and Zenit losing at home in the quarters there is still all to play for but Zenit did hold a 4-1 lead before they lost at home. With this tie very much in the balance, they are unlikely to be so easily rolled over and they may well be on their way to knocking out the pre-tournament favourites.
Bookmakers and pundits have to make predictions, it's how they earn their money but every semi-final could go either way. With one leg down, we are no closer to finding out who will contest the major European finals this season and it is sure to be a nervy week for all concerned.
By Andrew Reilly
for The Silver Circle at www.footballtip.co.uk
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