Barcelona forward Lionel Messi
celebrates after scoring past Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart from the penalty spot in their Champions League last 16 first leg game, 18 February. Reuters
Refereeing decisions always seem to take the cake in big matches. Yet again, the man with the whistle was put under the spotlight, with Manchester City feeling aggrieved after Martin Demichelis saw red and Barcelona scored two unanswered goals to put a foot-and-a-half in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
In a clash where City, formidable as any team in Europe at home, did pretty well in the first 45 minutes, the match turned when Lionel Messi sprung clear behind the home side's defence, with Martin Demichelis bringing down the Barcelona wonder inside the box, or so referee Jonas Eriksson thought, with replays suggesting the tackle perhaps came a tad outside the penalty area.
Messi, who has missed a penalty or two against England teams previously, with that crossbar strike from the spot against Chelsea coming firmly to mind, stepped up and made no mistake this time around, with Dani Alves then adding a oh-man-now-it-is-going-to-be-ridiculously-hard-to-go-through-said-the-City-fans goal to give Barcelona a 2-0 lead after the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Possession was always going to be the name of the game for Barcelona, even away from home, while City, knowing they were going to have less of the ball, and also not wanting to be overrun in midfield started with an extra midfielder.
However, that did not prevent Barca from controlling the tempo, even if clear-cut chances were few and far between in the first half.
City had their opportunities, with Alvaro Negredo and Vincent Kompany coming close, while Messi, determined to break his duck on grounds in England, looked in the mood.
Seven minutes into the second half, the game turned, with Messi breaking clear and Demichelis, in a last-gasp attempt, carving down his fellow Argentine. There was little doubt it was a red card, but the tackle originated marginally outside the box, even if you could understand why the referee thought it was a spotkick, with Messi's momentum taking him well inside the box.
Manuel Pellegrini would complain later about the penalty, and the fact that Jesus Navas was fouled by Sergio Busquets in the build-up, but that mattered little as Messi calmly stroked the ball into the centre of the net, with Joe Hart pouncing to his left.
One-nil down and with a little over 30 minutes to stop Barcelona from scoring again playing with just 10 men, City were always going to be up against it, and that proved to be the case with the Spanish giants adding the icing on 90 minutes.
Dani Alves and substitute Neymar exchanged passes down the right, before the former took a touch inside the box and slotted past Hart at a tight angle to pile further misery on the home team.
In the other game, PSG pretty much sealed their spot in the quarters with a comfortable 4-0 rout of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, with that man Zlatan Ibrahimovic grabbing a brace.
Emir Spahic saw red for a rather soft second yellow card for Leverkusen, but PSG had already put the tie beyond the Germans before that with Blaise Matuidi opening the scoring in just the third minute.
Ibrahimovic got his first courtesy a penalty, after Spahic was adjudged to have brought down Ezequiel Lavezzi inside the box - another soft decision from the referee. The Swede then increased PSG's lead to three, with a typically smashing strike from the edge of the area.
Spahic was given his marching orders in the second half for an innocuous foul on Lucas Moura, before PSG rubbed further salt into Leverkusen wounds with Yohan Cabaye, on his Champions League debut for PSG, slotting home two minutes from time.
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