Schalke 04, the last German team in the Champions League, went to the Nou Camp in Barcelona with their dreams of a semi-final place still alive. Despite another poor show by their hosts, Schalke failed to capitalize.
Close but no semi: Schalke's players rue their missed chances after elimination
Barcelona, currently a shadow of the team that swept all before them in La Liga and the Champions League in 2006, scraped past a profligate Schalke team in the Catalan capital on Wednesday, April 9, to set up a semi-final clash with Manchester United which promises to present Frank Rijkaard's team with a much sterner test.
Such was the dearth in quality from the home side,it could well have been Mirko Slomka's Bundesliga outfit preparing to take on the English Premier League leaders for a place in the final rather than the Barcelonistes.
However, it takes a terrible team to lose against a bad one, and while Schalke created a myriad of chances to put the tie beyond Barca, woeful finishing and vanishing confidence put paid to Schalke's best-ever chance to reach the end game of Europe's top club competition.
Out-of-form Kuranyi fluffs lines again
Barca skipper Puyol had Kuranyi in check for long periods
Despite months of inexplicably lost form, Schalke started with the misfiring Kevin Kuranyi back in the side, and he squandered no less than four good chances in the first 20 minutes.
While the spirit was strong and the body willing, the Germany striker and his teammates continued to lack the killer touch which had allowed Barcelona to come away from the Veltins Arena with a scrappy 1-0 win in this quarter-final's first leg last week.
In contrast, Barca midfielder Xavi Hernandez forced a sharp save from Manuel Neuer after just 12 minutes, after being exquisitely put through by Andres Iniesta.
Barca always looked more dangerous and it was little surprise when they took the lead in the 43rd minute, thanks to a veritable comedy of errors in the German defense.
Teenager Bojan Krkic centered from the right, Schalke defender Marcelo Bordon badly sliced his clearance, teammate Mladen Krstajic headed the ball off the line -- but only for Yaya Toure to follow up and score with a left-foot volley.
Both sides guilty of profligacy
Comedy defending ended with Yaya Toure volleying home
The bizarre goal gave Barca the confidence they had lacked in the first half, but after the break, matters soon followed in a similar fashion with both sides missing gilt-edged chances.
Barca strikers Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry miss-hit almost every ball that came their way while Halil Altintop and Kuranyi were equally inept for Schalke.
Even with Barcelona starting to look nervous -- with only one win in their last seven outings and a slender lead against dogged if chaotic opponents -- Schalke could still not get the goal which would have changed the complexion not only of the game but the whole tie.
"We pressed hard and we created opportunities, but in the end we couldn't do much with them," conceded Schalke coach Slomka.
"We are disappointed that we have gone out," added Schalke goalkeeper Neuer. "We were just not lucky on the day and they had the luck that we were missing. We tried everything going forward but just missed using our chances."
Neuer refused to blame his team's calamitous defending for the goal that effectively knocked Schalke out. "When the goal is scored it is too late to talk about it," he said. "We are a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team."
Under-fire Barca coach bullish over Man Utd clash
Barca's fans have been on the team's back recently
The victory eases some of the pressure building on embattled Barca coach Rijkaard and the club's under-fire president Joan Laporta.
"After the first leg result, they had nothing to lose and were out to spring a surprise," said Rijkaard of Schalke. "They were playing well and I think that made us a bit nervous as we tried to wrap things up. However, my team put in a lot of effort and we deserve to be in the semi-finals. It'll be two matches at a very high level, and I wouldn't make Manchester United the favorites."
Barca could welcome back South American maestros Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Deco for the semi-final. Defender Gabi Milito may also be fit enough to return from injury -- and his presence will be needed to shore up a defense which will be without Carlos Puyol. The Barca captain will miss the semi-final first leg after picking up another yellow card for a nasty challenge on Gerald Asamoah.
Germany looks to UEFA Cup for success
Cosmin Contra's goal gave Getafe a vital lift in Munich
German hopes of European glory now hinge on Bayern Munich's UEFA Cup campaign. But it hangs in the balance after a spirited Getafe side came away from the Allianz Arena with a valuable away goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw last week.
Bayer Leverkusen, the Bundesliga's other remaining UEFA Cup participants, travel to Zenit St Petersburg more in hope than any kind of expectation after crashing to a 4-1 defeat in the first leg in Germany.