Final Spots Wide Open In Europe
>Icelandic volcanic ash has caused problems all over Europe but also for the continent’s semi finalists in the Champions League and Europa League, with three of the four away teams losing. But spots in the respective finals are still up for the grabs.
Fulham who made a 27-hour coach trip to Hamburg will head home the happiest, after holding their German opponents to a goalless draw in the Europa League. Elsewhere, the damage was limited as Liverpool lost 1-0 at Atletico Madrid.
In the Champions League, Bayern Munich aren’t totally happy with their 1-0 home win over Olympique Lyon which offers the French outfit plenty of hope, but holders FC Barcelona have the most work to do after losing 3-1 at Inter Milan in an exciting tie.
UEFA Champions League semi finals
Despite going behind early to a Pedro goal, Italian champions Inter bounced back in style with a stunning 3-1 victory instigated by the brilliant Wesley Sneijder at the San Siro offering Jose Mourinho hope of achieving the club’s ultimate goal.
Barca, though, did make a massive 14-hour trip to Milan and shouldn’t be ruled out just yet, with a 2-0 second-leg home victory enough to go through. The Spanish side’s away goal does offer them hope, but Inter have done well to get a two-goal advantage and it will be tough to force them to relinquish that.
Barcelona boss Josep Guardiola commented: “We still have another chance in the second leg and we’re going to do our best. We will attempt to play our attacking game at home and will be looking to move the ball quicker than we did tonight.” Full-back Dani Alves added: “We have no choice but to go for it. They have the advantage but there are still 90 minutes for us to change all that.”
Inter boss Jose Mourinho said: “We deserved this victory but Inter are still far from reaching the final. We still have a lot to do, we’re going to play in Barcelona next week don’t forget. Barcelona are the best team in the world when they play at home. We played very well tonight, our only regret is Barça’s goal.”
The second-leg is already being eagerly anticipated, with Barcelona promising to go all out to overcome their deficit, while Inter will be very aware of that and will come with a plan. Sports Pundit prediction; Inter Milan to progress
Arjen Robben proved the hero again for German giants Bayern Munich who take a deserved but slender advantage into the second-leg in France against Olympique Lyon.
Bayern, though, will be without French star Franck Ribery (pending an appeal) who was harshly sent off in the first-half, while Lyon lost Jeremy Toulalan to two yellow cards but that decision also appeared tough. The Germans will be happy to have not conceded and to have an advantage, but Lyon won’t feel too downhearted either. This one is in the balance, although Bayern showed more in the first-leg.
A satisfied Bayern manager Louis van Gaal revealed: “It’s a good result because in the home games against Fiorentina and Manchester [United] the score [both 2-1] was not that good. Normally we score away from home so if we get one in the second-leg, Lyon will have to score three.”
Lyon boss Claude Puel said: “Bayern applied pressure from the beginning and controlled things very well. They wore us down throughout the game and that’s why I regret that one of my players was sent off. We lost but it’s still wide open.”
This tie does appear wide open and it’s anyone’s guess, but Bayern looked the stronger than Lyon in the first-leg although maybe that’s what a long bus trip does to you. Sports Pundit prediction; Bayern to progress
Europa League semi finals
After a long journey to Germany’s north-west, Fulham parked the bus and defended well, with Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer keeping Hamburg at bay in a goalless draw which offers the Londoners more than a glimmer of hope.
HSV will be disappointed by not taking an advantage in the tie, with Piotr Trochowski going close, but a goalless draw does leave every wide open and goals in London next Thursday will be precious.
Fulham boss Roy Hodgson acknowledged that point when he said: “We are at half-time, and we have to play another 90 minute half. There is a lot of football to be played and Hamburg are a very good team. If they score a goal next week the advantage passes to them. The tie is open but I am delighted about that because it is very easy to put yourself out of contention.”
Hamburg trainer Bruno Labbadia commented: “As expected this was a very difficult game and as expected they played very defensively. I was a little bit surprised they stayed back so much. All in all the game’s in the balance and we can still achieve what we set out to do.”
The Cottagers, who offered little in front of goal, will need to attack more at home to get through, while Hamburg know if they score they’ll cease the advantage. This is another curiously balanced tie. Sports Pundit prediction; Hamburg SV to progress
Diego Forlan’s scuffed ninth-minute effort proved decisive as Liverpool long journey to Spain proved fruitless. But Yossi Benayoun appeared hard done by when he was called offside when he netted not long after, although Atletico should’ve added to their advantage in a strong second-half.
Liverpool stopper did brilliantly to deny Simao Sabrosa from close-range after the break, while he later palmed away Tomas Ujfalusi’s long-range effort with Jamie Carragher scrambling away the rebound when Atletico were set to pounce. The Reds will thank those efforts for giving them hope and their exemplary semi-finals record suggests there’s every reason to be optimistic.
Reds boss Rafa Benitez said: “I have a lot of confidence of playing at Anfield, in our players and in our fans. [Today] It could have been better, it could have been worse and everything will be decided at Anfield where we will go out to fight and have all our supporters behind us.”
Atletico manager Quique Sanchez Flores commented: A second goal would have completed the match but we can’t complain. One-nil is a good result, the dressing room is optimistic but we know the game will be decided in the second leg. We need to play a good second leg as Liverpool will come out strongly.”
Both sides have had disappointing domestic campaigns and the success of their respective seasons depends on this second-leg. It’s sure to be an all-out beauty. Sports Pundit prediction; Liverpool to progress
Related news & articles
Thursday April 29
Despite taking extremely long coach journeys to last week’s first leg ties, both Fulham and Liverpool are not in bad shape for their second leg matches on home soil. More
Wednesday May 12
Spanish Primera Division side Atletico Madrid and Premier League club Fulham confront each other in the final of the Europa League on Wednesday night at the Hamburg Arena in Hamburg, Germany. More
Friday April 2
The first-legs of the Champions League quarter-finals were played midweek, so who is looming likely to reach the final four of Europe’s top competiton. More
Tuesday February 16
Is the Spanish title race back on again? We think so, after Barca’s loss to Atletico did Real a big favour. More