forward Alexis Sanchez falling dramatically after being challenged by
Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. No-penalty was the correct call but
Barca were hard done by the referee's same decision later when Carles
Puyol was hauled back by Djamel Mesbah.
MILAN: Shock - Barcelona fail to score in the Champions League.
In holding the European champions
to a goalless draw in Wednesday's first leg of their quarter-final at
the San Siro, AC Milan became the first team in 30 Champions League
encounters - since Rubin Kazan in November 2009 - to stop Lionel Messi
and company from scoring in the tournament.
Now the Italians believe they can oust the
Spanish giants at the Nou Camp next Tuesday, even though they have not
beaten Barcelona in the past seven years.
Messi, with 18 goals from his previous eight
games, was in search of his 50th in a competition in which he became the
first player to bag five in a game. That feat took place in the
previous round when Barca routed Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 in the second leg.
But this time he faced a classic performance
of Italian defending. The Argentinian was harried, hounded and pushed by
the Milan defenders who used a rotation system, where defenders take
turns to give away free kicks.
One block by Luca Antonini midway through the first half encapsulated defence as art.
The left-back had seen his goalkeeper sprawl
at full stretch to turn away a shot from Messi. As the ball ran loose,
he threw his entire body between the onrushing Alexis Sanchez and the
ball, won it as clean as a whistle, and raised his hand as if he had
scored a winning goal. The 70,000-strong home crowd roared in approval.
'I did celebrate,' admitted the 29-year-old
Italian defender. 'I always watched Barcelona's stars on television, and
play them on video. But Milan proved we can hold out against them.
'We have to play with the same spirit in the second leg in Barcelona. We have to repeat this performance next week.'
In truth, had Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic
not squandered easier chances than Barca had, this might have been the
complete Italian job on the current European champions.
Messi saw it differently.
'It was a tough match that we should have
won,' the World Player of the Year insisted. 'It's a dangerous situation
(for the second leg). Either team could go through.'
Barca felt they should have had two penalties,
the first when Sanchez fell melodramatically after he appeared to be
tripped by goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. The second, however, should
have been beyond dispute. Milan substitute Djamel Mesbah hauled back
Carles Puyol by the shirt with both hands. Swedish referee Jonas
Eriksson appeared to be staring straight at the offence but turned away.
Barca struggled to keep their footing on a San
Siro pitch where huge divots were frequently thrown up. 'If Uefa want
teams to put on a spectacle, they have to overcome problems like this,'
said coach Pep Guardiola, as his club lodged a complaint over the state
of the pitch.
Barca hope to do better on their wide and
manicured field in the second leg. Captain Puyol said: 'Even if we have
to deploy nine strikers, we have to win in the Camp Nou.'
In the other quarter-final, Bayern Munich took
a 2-0 lead from their first leg away to Marseille thanks to goals from
Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben.
Coach Jupp Heynckes refused to accept that his
team were as good as through. But his concern that seven of his players
were a booking away from suspension indicated that he had half an eye
on a possible semi-final meeting with Real Madrid.