Sport | All to play for in the Champions League

The Champions League semi-final stage kicked off on Tuesday, as 2012 winners Chelsea visited Diego Simeone’s high-flying Atletico Madrid for a hotly anticipated first leg encounter at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.

The match was not entirely one for the purists, as it was clear from the off that the Blues were not intending to be adventurous. Mourinho’s tactical nous ended up producing a fine defensive display as Chelsea claimed a creditable 0-0 draw to take to the second leg at Stamford Bridge next week, with everything still to play for.

Fine performances from England international Gary Cahill and the returning Ashley Cole bolstered a sound Chelsea defensive unit as it repelled and frustrated an attacking Atletico side that had netted 22 goals in their last 10 fixtures.

Meaningful chances from both sides were few and far between. Chelsea’s only chance was from a rare spring on the counter, but Ramires saw his shot go painfully wide of the mark. Fernando Torres appeared isolated for the majority of the game and failed to haunt his former club. A late Atletico surge saw Gabi go close with a well struck free kick before Arda Turan squandered a well-engineered solo effort.

However, the match did see injuries and suspensions mount for Chelsea. Stalwart goalkeeper Petr Cech was forced off early on with a shoulder injury after falling awkwardly and is set to miss the remainder of the season.

The Czech was replaced by 41 year old veteran Mark Schwarzer, who made his Champions League debut and became the second oldest player to feature in the competition.

Mourinho will also be ruing the loss of skipper John Terry to a foot injury, and the 33 year old could miss the rest of the season. The Blues will be light on options at central midfield next week too, as both Frank Lampard and Jon Obi Mikel picked up yellow cards to suspend them for the return leg. Atletico’s Gabi will also be ruled out for a tightly poised tie.

The second semi-final on Wednesday was a clash of the titans as Spanish giants Real Madrid faced reigning champions Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu. Carlo Ancelotti’s men will take a slender advantage to Germany with a hard fought 1-0 victory.

Bayern Munich dominated possession but squandered numerous attempts of an away goal. In the first half alone Pep Guardiola’s side had up to 80% possession, despite this Real Madrid still threatened  Bayern keeper Neuer. Cristiano Ronaldo went close in the first half to put the tied to bed after returning from injury.

Real’s goal came against the run of play. Bayern went close to scoring from an effort from Toni Kroos, before Real Madrid unleashed a devastating counter-attack, reaching Coentrao on the wing who whipped in a low cross which was tucked away by Karim Benzema in the 19th minute, the Frenchman’s 24th for the season.

Benzema then deftly set up Ronaldo, but he could not keep his shot down. Bayern’s defending seemed to get increasingly lackadaisical as Di Maria should have punished a lapse in concentration from Dante as he volleyed a cross from former-Malaga man Isco over the bar.

The pattern of play persisted into the second-half as Bayern retained majority of the possession, however Real seemed to threaten more with Ronaldo having his angled shot well saved by Neuer. The Portuguese ace then made way for Gareth Bale, who was confined to bench after recovering from a bout of flu.

Bayern went incredibly close with six minutes remaining to snatching a precious away goal when Mario Gotze was put through by compatriot Thomas Muller only having the keeper to beat, but skipper Iker Casillas made an excellent stop to deny the substitute. Muller also went down in the box in injury time; however appeals for a spot-kick were waved away by referee Howard Webb.

Ancelotti’s Madrid held their slender lead, but Bayern showed enough quality in the match to suggest that they could have more than enough at the Allianz Arena to overcome the Spaniards, as they look to be the first team to retain the trophy. Madrid will hope the chances that went begging will not prove crucial, as they look to replicate their 2000 semi-final success over the German side that led to the Spaniard’s last European title.


Rhys Stevens

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