Wednesday 13 December 2017

Miracle too far for Barcelona

Barcelona 0 Juventus 0

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi vies with Juventus’ defender Alex Sandro during the Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Nou Camp stadium. Pic: Getty Images
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi vies with Juventus’ defender Alex Sandro during the Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Nou Camp stadium. Pic: Getty Images

Miracles do happen. But not every six weeks. And not against this Juventus; not with Giorgio Chellini and Leonardo Bonucci, born to block, at the heart of a defence.

Barcelona are out of the Champions League, with Juventus going through into the semi-finals, and now the recriminations and rebuilding will begin in Catalonia.

They could not overturn a daunting first-leg deficit, as they did in the previous round against Paris Saint-Germain, although there were chances. Lionel Messi, amazingly, was wasteful.

It was the first time Barcelona had not scored in Europe at home for four years and they will have played far worse and done so. But there is - as with that other semi-finalist Atletico Madrid - a daunting beauty to Juventus' defensive organisation. In their desperation Barcelona surrounded and harangued the referee, who took a hard line against them and did not shift. Maybe they also paid the price for the way they behaved against PSG with Uefa flexing its muscles.

"Unleash hell", read the headline in the Turin newspaper, which could have been taken either way. Certainly, though, the Italians were not cowed. And anyway 'hell' was not full. The Nou Camp not at capacity - a sign, maybe, that there was not quite the same belief that had overpowered a callow PSG.

Juventus are organised, street-wise, more experienced than PSG and clearly saw the benefit of getting another goal themselves to kill any attempts to gain momentum or turn this tie.

It needed a strong referee, and Bjorn Kuipers warned Paulo Dybala for waving an imaginary card after he was fouled by Ivan Rakitic while every time a Barcelona player hit the turf there were howls from the stands and demands from the pitch - led by Luis Suarez.

But it was Suarez who should have done better than head the ball across goal when he was picked out by Neymar, with a clever lob, and it was the same for Rakitic as he blasted over while, for Juventus, Gonzalo Higuain slashed at a half-volley, sending it over the bar, having already failed to connect with another chance.

Finally, Lionel Messi got involved, sending an angled cross to pick out the run of Jordi Alba, who only just failed to connect and send it into the net. And so it continued, with Messi then missing the best chance so far - dragging his shot wide when it was laid off to him, inadvertently, by Suarez. Little wonder he held his face. He knew, he really knew, he should have scored.

Half-time came. No goal. Juventus would not crack - and it continued in the second half, with Neymar dribbling his way through only to be crowded out before the visitors again threatened, after Jordi Alba lost the ball, with Higuain picking out Juan Cuadrado, who shot low across goal and just wide.

Messi had two shots. One he skied and then it appeared he was sure to score as he shifted the ball onto his left foot, only for Chiellini to deflect it just wide. Barcelona pushed and pushed, throwing men forward - their formation was basically 2-8 - and were caught on the break when Pjanic fouled Sergio Busquets but was alloweed to play on, with his deflected shot almost catching out goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who tipped it onto the crossbar.

It was astonishing there had not been a goal and yet another opportunity fell to Messi - from Suarez - but, unmarked, he volleyed over from seven yards. Incredible.

Sergio Roberto cut inside and drove a shot narrowly wide. It would not go in and Barcelona were out. And Juventus had avenged their defeat in the 2015 final and will be powerful contenders to reach another final.

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