The Reuters global sports blog
Manchester United fans, players and manager Alex Ferguson will no doubt be fuming for a few more days about the controversial nature of their Champions League defeat by Real Madrid before the club’s attention turns to Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea at Old Trafford.
But even the referee’s decision to send off Nani when a booking seemed sufficient could not overshadow the graceful manner in which Cristiano Ronaldo handled the occasion of knocking out his former club at a ground where he is apparently still adored.
“Viva Ronaldo,” United supporters sang before, during and after the 1-1 first leg in Madrid and the ode to the Portuguese forward also reverberated around Old Trafford during Real’s 2-1 win as he barely held back the tears after delivering the killer blow that saw his present club advance into the last eight 3-2 on aggregate.
Ronaldo refrained from celebrating either his headed equaliser at the Bernabeu or the deft finish which swung the tie Real’s way in the return leg and there was nothing pathetic or patronising in the gesture of a player often slated for theatrics while he played in the Premier League.
On two nights when every football cliché went out the window, one remained true – in the end the only statistic that matters is the scoreline.
On Tuesday It didn’t matter that Barcelona owned the ball, or that they completed hundreds of passes over the two legs. When Chelsea got hold of it, they used it effectively – if we are to look at one stat other than the score, Chelsea’s four shots on goal and three goals in the tie tell their own story.
So Chelsea pulled off an amazing coup to dethrone Barcelona and reach the final. Real Madrid meet Bayern Munich on Wednesday for the right to meet Jose Mourinho’s former club on May 19.
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A mouth-watering clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona in this season’s Champions League final in Munich appeared to be on the cards when the two Spanish giants were kept apart in the draw, but the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi watching the showpiece on television instead of taking centre stage on May 19 now looks just as likely.
While Barcelona missed a hatful of chances in their 1-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a pulsating first leg of their semi, Real were maybe fortunate to escape with only a 2-1 defeat at Bayern after they were undone by a stoppage-time winner from Mario Gomez.
The Champions League is heading for another spectacular climax after the quarter-final clashes produced expected winners in holders Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, who must be relishing the prospect of taking centre stage in the final in their own stadium on May 19.
But rather than the usual suspects who predictably reach the latter stages of the money-spinning competition every season, it was the highly unheralded outfit of APOEL Nicosia that lit up the scene this time.
If the coaching merry-go-round puts Jose Mourinho back in the Chelsea hotseat after the 49-year old Portuguese left Stamford Bridge in 2007, it will be a testament to the old saying that nothing is impossible in football.
There seemed to be no way back for the self-acclaimed “Special One” after his acrimonious split with Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich, but their contrasting fortunes since have seemingly opened the door to what would be a spectacular return to English football for Mourinho.
In the space of a year, the 24-year-old has gone from expensive bench warmer to first-choice leader of the line at the world’s richest club by revenue, and won over a skeptical coach.
There was the usual hushed silence and then sudden intake of breath heard in Nyon on Friday, though not for the Champions League Round of 16 draw but the first two ties of the Europa League Round of 32.
Holders Porto will play mega-rich Manchester City, they were the first two names out of the little plastic balls when UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was finally able to open the second after Davor Suker had tried and failed, and Ajax Amsterdam will take on Manchester United.
from Mark Meadows:
Annoyingly for Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, the supposed plot line of El Clasico on Saturday did not follow the script. The much-anticipated power shift from Catalunya to Madrid did not take place and his team are back to the drawing board as far as playing against Barcelona is concerned.
Mourinho blamed bad luck for the loss, as you would expect, but a lot of the press have zoomed in on Real's psychological barrier when it comes to facing Barca.
from Reuters Soccer Blog:
Jose Mourinho was given a rapturous reception by the Real Madrid faithful when his side entertained Galatasaray in a friendly on Wednesday.
It was a show of unity likely to leave club president Florentino Perez in no doubt that whatever reservations he might have over his stubbornly controversial coach the majority of Madrid supporters love him.