There were four engrossing encounters in UEFA Champions League on February 18 & 19, 2014, when first legs games for round-of-16 games were played at different venues across Europe. Incidentally, all matches were away games for the winners. On Tuesday night, Paris Saint-Germain had an overwhelming victory over Bayer 04 Leverkusen 4-0 at Leverkusen. On the same day, FC Barcelona brought agony to Manchester City, finishing a deserved 2-0 victory at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium. In two other matches played on Wednesday, Bayern Munich defeated Arsenal 2-0 in North London, while in Milan, Madrid’s Atletico Club finished 1-0 winner in a close match.
In Leverkusen, PSG went ahead in 3rd minute by a fine strike from midfielder Blaise Matuidi. A minute earlier, Leverkusen’s Rolfes yielded a free-kick to PSG for a wrong tackle with Matuidi. The free-kick from Lucas landed near Marco Verratti, whose brilliant pass found Matuidi to strike cleanly. This early goal stunned the hosts, who never quite recovered from the blow. In 38th minute PSG’s Ezequiel Lavezzi was brought down by Spahic and PSG earned a penalty. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty shot astutely landed in the bottom left corner and PSG enhanced their lead to 2-0. Ibra struck again in the 42nd minute, when Matuidi sent a pass to the mercurial Swede on top of box and Ibra scored in his characteristic style to take his tally of goals to 10 in this UEFA League. PSG increased their lead further, when in 88th minute; Ibra began another big move that ended in the ball reaching Yohan Cabaye for making a great muscular shot to the top corner of the goal. Despite odd moves by Leverkusen, PSG emerged the dominant team and had the ball with them most times. The return second leg match between PSG and Leverkusen will be played on March 12, 2014 at Parc des Princes, Paris.
Barca dominated in their match with Manchester City on Tuesday, though the half-time score was 0-0. An opportunity presented itself in the 53rd minute, when City’s Martín Demichelis was red-carded for bringing down Lionel Messi near the goal area and Barca earned a penalty. The calm-looking Messi hit through the middle confusing the City goalkeeper, who dived to his left. Messi had another chance to score in 56th minute, when he and Daniel Alves kept swapping passes. Finally Messi’s powerful shot was effectively blocked by Pablo Zabaleta. In 67th minute, Fabregas sent a beautiful pass to Daniel Alves, who relayed it to Xavi Hernández. Unfortunately, Hernandez’s strike sailed over the bar. A minute later, Daniel Alves was able to slide behind City’s defense on the right but his low shot went wide. Alves, however, didn’t have to wait long for another chance. It was a sight to behold, when Gerard Pique passed a ball out to Alves, who passed it on to Neymar. In a flash, Neymar passed it back to Alves, who slotted it into the goal through the goalkeeper’s legs. The 2-0 victory margin will make it difficult for Manchester City, when they go to Camp Nou, Barcelona on March 12 for the return-leg match.
In the match played in London on Wednesday, Bayern Munich controlled the game and defeated Arsenal 2-0. Both sides missed penalties awarded to them before half-time and the match remained goalless for long. In a bizarre drama, the Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny was sent off, 37 minutes from the start, when he brought down Arjen Robben. However, Bayern’s David Alaba squandered the penalty. Earlier in the 8th minute, Bayern also faced a penalty, after Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil was fouled by Jerome Boateng. But Bayern’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer made a great save. In 54th minute, Bayern launched an offensive, with Arjen Robben finding Toni Kroos near Arsenal goal area. Kroos sent the pass to Philipp Lahm on his right and Lahm, seeing that Kroos was better placed to shoot, slid the ball to Kroos for a classical goal in the top corner. Captain Lahm played another great role in setting Bayern’s second goal. He cut the Arsenal defense open and chipped a pass to Thomas Müller, who made no mistake in sending the header in. With the 0-2 deficit facing them, Arsenal will have a tough task, when they meet Bayern in the second leg at Munich on March 11, 2014.
The fourth match was played in Milan on Wednesday between Atletico and AC Milan. This was the hardest fought of all the matches this week. Milan played well and had two great chances. But both shots rebounded from the posts. For Milan, it was bad luck at its worst. The good luck, however, belonged to Atletico, when they could score a goal in the closing stages. The visitors did their best all through and their reward came in the 83rd minutes. Two corners came their way within a space of one minute and when the second corner was taken in 83rd minute by Gabi, Ignazio Abate attempted a header to clear the ball but the ball looped to Diego Costa. The Spaniard adjusted himself and scored through a clean header. Though Atletico have taken a narrow lead, they will have to prove themselves, when they meet AC Milan once again for the return leg match on March 11, 2014 at Madrid.
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