The Malta Independent 24 July 2017, Monday

No Barcelona comeback as Juventus reach Champions League semis, Monaco eliminate Dortmund

Associated Press Thursday, 20 April 2017, 08:04 Last update: about 4 months ago

Juventus put on a masterclass of defensive football to reach the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday, frustrating Lionel Messi and earning a 0-0 draw against a Barcelona side hoping for another miraculous comeback.

The second-leg stalemate sealed a 3-0 win on aggregate and came six weeks after Barcelona's historic 6-1 thrashing of Paris Saint-Germain, when the home side became the first team to ever overturn a 4-0 loss in the competition.

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The Italians visitors made sure there would be no more miracles at Camp Nou by displaying all the poise and experience that PSG had sorely lacked in the previous round.

"We knew Barcelona were ready to risk everything tonight, but we closed down all the spaces," Juventus centerback Leonardo Bonucci said. "Scoring three in the first leg and not conceding at the Camp Nou is the evidence that we are a great team. I think every team would like to avoid us now."

True to the Italian tradition of defending an advantage, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had little work to do until late in the game, as Massimiliano Allegri's side expertly absorbed Barcelona's passing attack that ultimately produced few good scoring opportunities.

And when Messi did get free inside the area, Barcelona's all-time leading scorer squandered both his chances to spark a fightback.

The only miracle seen in Barcelona this time was Juventus not getting a late goal, with the Spanish side barely having the legs to recover when defending.

Barcelona forward Neymar was consoled by former teammate Dani Alves, now playing for Juventus, after the final whistle while Barcelona's fans cheered their team despite the elimination.

"Juventus is a great team and they were better than us," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. "It was a difficult result to turn around, although we tried until the end. They are an Italian club and defend very well. I wish them the best and I think they can win the title."

Juventus joins Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Monaco in the semifinal draw on Friday.

Monaco advanced after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in its quarterfinal, second leg on Wednesday for a 6-3 aggregate win. Teenager Kylian Mbappe and forward Radamel Falcao struck early to put Monaco on its way.

Dani Alves committed the only slip in Juventus' discipline when he was caught off the pitch at kickoff saying 'hello' to his former teammates in Barcelona's dugout. Fortunately for the Brazil right back, the opening move planned by Barcelona to send a long ball into his defensive zone flopped.

Otherwise, the same Juventus starting 11 from the first leg had control of the match, bending but never breaking under the assault of a Barcelona in full-attack mode.

"On a psychological level, my team never dropped its guard. The force of the team is not getting too worked up, or shaken," Allegri said. "My players were extraordinary tonight. They kept their cool."

Messi could have boosted Barcelona's hopes in the 19th minute when a long buildup ended with Luis Suarez setting him up near the penalty spot, only for Messi to fire wide.

Neymar volleyed Jordi Alba's pass wide before Messi drew the first save from Buffon just past the half-hour mark.

Juventus, however, tightened its defense, anchored by Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, and the hosts' opportunities dried up.

Messi's first half had a painful ending when he was caught by Miralem Pjanic while jumping for a ball. Messi tumbled face first into the turf, and showed a small scratch that bled on his cheek once he got back on his feet. Neymar was then booked for an apparent retaliatory charge into Pjanic, earning him a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards.

Messi wasted another opportunity in the 67th when Suarez found him in the box after Buffon left his line and failed to clear the ball.

Andres Iniesta finally gave Buffon a real challenge with 10 minutes remaining, when his glancing effort off a cross made the veteran goalkeeper get down low to save.

"Juve is a great team that knows how to defend perfectly. Even so, a goal would have changed the game," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "We created enough chances to score, but it wasn't to be."

Juventus will be without midfielder Sami Khedira for the first leg of the semifinals after he earned a yellow for fouling Suarez.

The two-time European champions are set to complete an excellent campaign. Having now avenged their 2015 Champions League final loss to Barcelona, Juventus also leads the Italian league and has lined up an Italian Cup final against Lazio.

The result ended Barcelona's run of 15 wins in as many home European matches since the arrival of Luis Enrique, who will leave the club this summer.

Barcelona must now rest and regroup for Sunday's trip to play Real Madrid in a "clasico" match that will go a long way to deciding the Spanish league title.

After such a long journey to reach the Champions League semifinals, Monaco has no fear of who it plays next.

With good reason.

Monaco dispatched Borussia Dortmund 3-1 on Wednesday — with red-hot striker Kylian Mbappe continuing his remarkable rise to stardom with another goal — to go through 6-3 on aggregate.

Coach Leonardo Jardim's spellbinding brand of attacking football has produced 141 goals so far this season, including three goals home and away in both knockout rounds.

Monaco reached the 2004 final against the odds, knocking out Real Madrid along the way, and they could meet again in Friday's draw. In another parallel, midfield great Zinedine Zidane was playing for Real Madrid back then and he is now the club's coach.

Monaco's other two potential opponents are Atletico Madrid — which lost last year's final to Real — and 2015 runner-up Juventus.

Some prospect.

But asked which side he feared the most, Jardim's answer spoke volumes for Monaco's confidence.

"I think this question is something for our opponents now," the Portuguese coach said. "For them to worry about playing us."

Monaco has come a long way since July 27 last year — when it started in the qualifying rounds with a trip to Istanbul. Monaco got past Fenerbahce and then beat Spanish side Villarreal to reach the group stages.

"It's not easy to play the Champions League and to try and win the French league at the same time," Jardim said of the domestic league leaders.

Mbappe and resurgent forward Radamel Falcao scored early goals to put immediate pressure on Dortmund, which trailed 3-2 from the first leg of the quarterfinal in Germany.

Attacking midfielder Marco Reus pulled one back in the 48th minute, but substitute Valere Germain added the third in the 81st minute to seal a 6-3 victory on aggregate. It was Monaco's 141st goal of an incredible season that has captured the imagination and made the rest of Europe take notice.

"We never tried to protect the result," Jardim said. "Because our DNA is to attack and to always try and score."

Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel accepted that his side fell short.

"We knew we needed a performance of the highest level to turn things around, but that wasn't the case," he said. "We made too many basic errors."

The home leg in Germany was overshadowed by an attack on the Dortmund team bus as it headed to the stadium. Prior to Wednesday's game, Dortmund's bus was held up by police at the team hotel and kickoff was briefly delayed.

"We wanted to leave at 7:15 p.m. Everyone was prepared and in the bus, but we couldn't move for 16 or 17 minutes," Tuchel said. "The police was there to escort us and we asked them why we couldn't move and they just said 'for safety reasons.' You can imagine that eight days after the attack that (this is) the worst thing that can happen."

On the pitch, Dortmund conceded after just three minutes.

Attack-minded left back Bernard Mendy — newly called up to the France team along with Mbappe — hit a fierce shot that goalkeeper Roman Burki spilled. Mbappe slotted the loose ball into the bottom left corner for his 22nd goal of a breakthrough season that has made the 18-year-old one of the brightest prospects in European football.

He had scored twice in the first leg and in both legs against Manchester City in the Round of 16.

Falcao's diving header, the 27th goal of his comeback season, made it 2-0 in the 17th minute.

Reus pulled one back when he turned in a right-wing cross from substitute Ousmane Dembele to offer some hope, before Germain sprinted through to send Stade Louis II crowd into raptures.

After the drama of last week's attack, this was a welcome return to euphoric, attacking football. Both sets of fans united in a touching show of support beforehand, singing the famed football anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" as they raised scarves together.

As Dortmund kept pushing forward in numbers, Monaco was stretched down both flanks but, equally, Dortmund was increasingly exposed to slick counterattacking.

Falcao lofted a shot narrowly over after breaking down the right in the 65th and Mbappe had a low shot saved moments later from a similar position.

Dembele and Reus continued to threaten, while Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko headed over and Mbappe failed to control a good pass as the chances came thick and fast on a chilly night.

Germain put the result beyond doubt as he broke through down the right and slotted the ball under Burki's body.

The whole Monaco bench rushed to jump on him: a symbolic image of Monaco's teamwork.

"All the players played at a high level," Jardim said. "It wasn't a day for speaking about individuals."



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