An established powerhouse and a relative unknown have become the first two teams to reach the Champions League quarterfinals. Barcelona are among the favorites to win it all, but don't underestimate Shakhtar Donetsk.
Tough-tackling Arsenal racked up a string of yellow cards, and a red
2009 champions Barcelona and knockout-stage debutantes Shakhtar Donetsk booked their tickets to the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday, at the expense of Arsenal and AS Roma.
Barcelona, playing the second leg at home after a 2-1 defeat in London's Emirates Stadium, routed 10-man Arsenal 3-1 in a game they could have won by a far greater margin.
Argentine World Player of the Year Lionel Messi scored a brace, sandwiching a strike from Spanish international Xavi. It was also Barcelona's Sergio Busquets who scored Arsenal's only goal of the game, heading the ball backwards into his own net when defending a corner.
"Barcelona were well in command and should have won by more goals," Deutsche Welle soccer expert Paul Chapman said. "But it's the same old Barcelona problem: they want to score perfect goals, they want to walk the ball into the net. So often they could have shot from ten meters, but then they thought: 'No, it would be better if we could walk the ball over the line.' It was always just a little bit too intricate at the end."
Arsenal's substitute goalkeeper Manuel Almunia also helped keep the score respectable with a string of great second half saves.
Many soccer lovers had lamented that Arsenal and Barcelona, two of the European sides that best show how beautiful the beautiful game can be, were drawn together relatively early in the competition. But despite the high scoreline, DW's Paul Chapman said Tuesday's match didn't live up to the standard of the first leg in London.
Barca's star of stars Lio Messi led the line, grabbing two goals
"This wasn't the free-flowing, pure-footballing festival that we all hoped to see," Paul Chapman said. "This was a tactical game of cat and mouse, in the first half in particular. In that first half there was a streak of nastiness in the game, and it was the Arsenal players who were creating the unrest."
Tough tackles, timid tactics
Arsenal racked up four yellow cards in the first half, and manager Arsene Wenger didn't react to this at half time. One of the booked players, forward Robin van Persie, then picked up his second yellow card early in the second half for failing to stop playing after the whistle had blown. The outspoken Dutchman was furious, saying he didn't hear the referee's whistle and calling the decision "a total joke." If this sending off was a little harsh, Swiss official Massimo Busacca showed considerable patience with other hard-tackling Arsenal players, especially defender Laurent Koscielny, who committed several fouls and conceded a penalty after being booked for a foul in the 16th minute.
Domestically, Arsenal have a real a shot at winning the English Premiership, but Paul Chapman still thinks Arsene Wenger will be disappointed that Barcelona have again knocked his side out of European competition. He was also baffled that the manager apparently changed his strategy prior to the match.
"For me, what was strange was the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, saying ahead of the game: 'It's pointless to go into this match and try to defend for ninety minutes. That's not our natural game, and you have to accept that Barcelona are always going to score a goal at home.' Having said that, Arsenal set out their stall purely to defend and frustrate Barcelona."
Chapman suspects that Wenger was trying to mirror the approach Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan took against Barcelona last season, successfully stifling them in their semifinal encounter. He also said the French manager was probably mindful of the 4-1 defeat his more attacking Arsenal lineup suffered in Barcelona in last season's Champions League quarterfinals.
Shakhtar venture into the unknown
In Tuesday's other match, Shakhtar Donetsk continued their already historic run in the Champions League. Having reached the knockout phase for the first time, the Ukrainian side moved on to the quarterfinals, comfortably dispatching AS Roma 3-0 on home soil, securing a 6-2 aggregate victory. Shakhtar are the first Ukrainian side since Dynamo Kiev, defeated semifinalists in 1999, to get this far in Europe's premier competition.
Shakhtar's new Donbass Arena will also host Euro 2012 matches
Roma started fairly strongly, but the hosts dominated most of the match, with Tomas Hübschman, Willian and ex-Arsenal man Eduardo scoring the goals.
"Such a comprehensive defeat of AS Roma at this stage is a magnificent performance," Paul Chapman said. "A lot of people would have looked at this draw and thought Roma would go through with ease, but instead they've been completely humbled. And Shakhtar have had no problems scoring goals even against a well-organized Italian team. That tells quite a story."
It would be easy, but also extremely unwise, to dismiss Shakhtar as the weak link in the last eight, Paul Chapman said.
"They're still unbeaten in the Champions League in that nice new stadium of theirs and they have plenty of talent in there."
A deceptively serious contender
Given a straight choice between Barcelona and Shakhtar, Chapman concedes, any coach would opt to face the Ukrainian outfit.
"Still, I think Shakhtar Donetsk can give any team - even Barcelona - a run for their money. They've got plenty of pace, they're well organized, and are very, very strong at home. And Barcelona don't always travel that well. In fact, it would be very interesting to see these two teams drawn together."
Six more places in the quarterfinals are still up for grabs. On Wednesday, Tottenham face off against AC Milan, having beaten the Italians 1-0 away from home, while German side Schalke play host to Valencia, hoping to secure a win after drawing 1-1 in Spain.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Holly Fox