Tuesday April 3 2012
Messi brace knocks out Milan

Antonio Nocerino’s away goal was not enough, as Milan go out of the Champions League to a couple of Lionel Messi penalties in a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona.

The first leg of this Champions League quarter-final ended goalless, so a score draw would be enough to send the Rossoneri through on the away goals rule.

Thiago Silva, Mark van Bommel, Alexander Merkel and more were sidelined, but Alexandre Pato was back on the bench for the first time in six weeks. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ignazio Abate and Alessandro Nesta passed fitness tests to start with a very experienced midfield, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic faced his former club.

Xavi recovered from a calf problem to start with Javier Mascherano and Cesc Fabregas, but Isaac Cuenca was a surprise pick and only turns 21 later this month.

Milan were again in their ‘lucky’ all white strip and it took a sliding tackle from Gerard Piqué to put off Ibrahimovic as he burst into the box after three minutes, but Lionel Messi went on a rapid counter-attack only to fire straight at Christian Abbiati.

A well-worked move saw Dani Alves and Fabregas combine to set up Messi’s shot across the face of goal to skim the back post.

However, Philippe Mexes gave away the ball in midfield to allow Messi on the counter and Luca Antonini at first managed to intercept, but then brought down Messi for a penalty as the move continued. Abbiati got the right angle, but could not stop Messi’s spot-kick from nestling into the near bottom corner.

Abbiati smothered another Messi snapshot and a combination of Alessandro Nesta, Antonini and Abbiati managed to close down Dani Alves.

Milan had little possession, but took advantage of it by equalising with Antonio Nocerino. Ibrahimovic had his back to goal and threaded through a pass for Nocerino to spring the offside trap thanks to a Mascherano error and place an angled drive across Victor Valdes. As this was an away goal, it would count double if the tie ended level overall.

Xavi stung Abbiati’s palms with a long-range screamer and a Fabregas attempt was easily smothered.

However, the referee pointed to the spot again for Nesta’s rather soft shirt-tug on Sergio Busquets as a corner was whipped in. Nesta was furious, especially as he was being fouled by Carles Puyol at the same time, but also received a yellow card that will suspend him for the next game. Messi took the opposite angle to his first penalty, but still got it on target, sending Abbiati the wrong way.

Messi dribbled through the defence for a crucial one-handed Abbiati save. After the restart Mascherano tackled Ibra in the box, then a Xavi free kick whistled just wide of the top corner, though Abbiati had it covered.

Milan were beaten by an unlucky deflection for Barca’s third goal. Messi’s shot ricocheted into the air off Mexes and allowed Andres Iniesta to curl in undisturbed from six yards as Abbiati rushed off his line.

Messi’s lob was off target and Boateng nodded over from a corner. There was a controversial moment when Robinho charged down a Pique clearance with his armpit and surged towards goal to test Victor Valdes, but the referee stopped play for a handling offence.

Boateng’s pass across the area for Robinho was crucially intercepted, but at the other end Messi sent Thiago Alcantara totally clear to pull an angled drive across the face of goal and past the far post.

Alexandre Pato made his comeback for the first time since February 25. Dani Alves intercepted a dangerous Ibrahimovic cross as Alberto Aquilani was lining up his diving header, while Victor Valdes smothered at Pato’s feet.

Pato’s comeback lasted all of 13 minutes before he limped off again to make way for former Barcelona man Maxi Lopez. Fatigue was showing for the Rossoneri and Nesta had to scramble clear when Abbiati at full stretch intercepted a Dani Alves cross for Messi in the six-yard box.

Adriano burst down the left flank totally unmarked, but fired wide of the near post with only the goalkeeper to beat. Victor Valdes fumbled a cross, but Ibra was not quick enough to take advantage. In stoppages Messi curled a free kick over the bar.

Milan go out of the Champions League 3-1 on aggregate, while Barcelona go through to the semi-finals against either Chelsea or Benfica. In the other quarter-final, Barcelona beat Olympique Marseille 2-0, 4-0 on aggregate.

Barcelona 3-1 Milan (3-1 on agg)

Scorers: Messi pens 11, 42 (B), Nocerino 33 (M), Iniesta 54 (B)

Barcelona: Victor Valdes; Daniel Alves, Piqué (Adriano 75), Mascherano, Puyol; Xavi Hernandez (Thiago Alcantara 63), Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Fabregas (Keita 78), Isaac Cuenca

Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Mexes, Antonini; Nocerino, Ambrosini, Seedorf (Aquilani 60); Boateng (Pato 70) (Maxi Lopez 83); Robinho, Ibrahimovic

Ref: Kuipers (Hol)

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