There were two shock results in the last set of Champions League round of 16 matches. Arsenal managed to beat Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, but its 2-0 win still sees it eliminated on away goals, while competition debutant Malaga stunned 10-man Porto with a fully deserved 2-0 win in Spain. ...
Bayern Munich advances despite defeat. You can't win the Champions League in March, but you can lose it. That was the lesson heeded by Barcelona on Tuesday and 24 hours later, one that a relieved Bayern Munich may remind us of after earning its place in Friday's quarterfinal draw despite losing 2-0 at home to Arsenal. OK, so Bayern wouldn't have beaten Barcelona on this performance, but it matters little: the damage it wreaked three weeks ago at the Emirates was enough to make the difference in this tie.
The Champions League now does not have a Premier League representative in the last eight for the first time in 17 years. Arsenal salvaged pride back from its last European showing and managed something no opponent has managed in Bayern's 38 games this season, scoring a goal in the opening 15 minutes.
It only took three minutes, in fact, when Santi Cazorla found Theo Walcott in space, his pass causing David Alaba to slip and lose his man; the winger's fizzing cross was then stabbed home by Olivier Giroud.
The goal creators vindicated coach Arsene Wenger's decision to start with Cazorla and Walcott, players who, after the pre-match press conference, were expected to be rested for the game. That caused consternation, quite rightly, in the buildup to kickoff: this was Arsenal's biggest game of the season so far, and its only remaining chance of a trophy this season. While overturning a 3-1 deficit, away from home, and against a dominant Bayern Munich side, was always a tall order, Wenger at least gave his team a chance.
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And that's more can be said for his "reserve team" selection for the Matchday Six Group B defeat at Olympiakos: that was the result that got Arsenal into this mess in the first place. Had Wenger picked a stronger team then and won that game, Arsenal would have topped its group, avoided Bayern and faced Galatasaray in this round. No cakewalk, but much easier.
As it was, Bayern responded quite well to going behind even if, for a while, it seemed like neither side could quite believe what had happened; Arsenal retreated and Bayern created half-chances but not too much to trouble stand-in keeper Lukasz Fabianski.
In the second half, Bayern was limited to shots from the edge of the area: Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Luis Gustavo all tried their luck, but none came close. Thomas Muller, Bayern's best player, found space on the right, but no one was on the end of his cross. Muller then back-heeled Robben clean through on goal, but the Dutchman waited too long to shoot, and when he did, it was punched away by Fabianski.
The tempo in the second half was strange: it was a subdued atmosphere, as if both sides were happy with the scoreline and neither wanted to take too many risks. With 20 minutes left, Wenger played his offensive card, bringing on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho, who came close to scoring after a neat exchange with Cazorla, but his shot edged just wide.
Bayern continued to not know whether to stick or twist, and its night became even nervier when Laurent Koscielny beat Javi Martinez to head home a corner in the 86th. Suddenly Arsenal was one goal from getting through; the tie was alive, and Bayern was rocking.
But Arsenal ran out of time. For the second season running, it has played a near-perfect second leg after a disastrous first leg: in 2012 it had lost 4-0 in Milan and won 3-0 at home. This time, it was the other way around. In one way, Arsenal should be happy: the last team to take the lead at the Allianz Arena was Stuttgart, and it ended up losing 6-1.
The two questions that now remain are: can Bayern rediscover its Emirates form to challenge for this title, or has it peaked too soon? And will Arsenal (fifth in the Premier League) be back in this competition next season?
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Pellegrini keeps Malaga dreaming. Malaga is still alive, which can only be good news, given that we are unlikely to see it in this competition again any time soon. After all, it has been banned from all UEFA competitions for next season (not to mention there's also a deferred ban if the club fails to meet further conditions), but this incredible story of success on the pitch against the backdrop of chaos off it continues.
Is Malaga the new Villarreal? That was the team Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini led to the 2006 Champions League semifinal against all odds (and was only a penalty kick away from beating Arsenal and reaching the final). On Wednesday, Pellegrini out-thought his opposite number from Porto, Vitor Perreira, whose cautious decision to start with Steven Defour out wide in place of James Rodriguez backfired. Defour was sent off early in the second half, just after moving central to replace the clearly unfit Joao Moutinho.
By contrast, Pellegrini's decisions all paid off: he started with Julio Baptista just behind Javier Saviola, and both strikers scared Porto's high defense with runs off their shoulders. After 40 minutes, Saviola put the ball in the net, but the goal was disallowed: Baptista was ruled to have fouled goalkeeper Helton, when in fact fullback Danilo had bundled over the Brazilian striker and a penalty should have been awarded.
Within a minute, Malaga had scored: Isco turning away from Lucho Gonzalez and firing a trademark shot into the top corner from outside the area. That gave Malaga huge momentum going into the second half, and, once Defour was dismissed, Malaga continued to control the game.
Porto did come close to an away goal when Jackson Martinez touched James' free kick just past the post, but then came another Pellegrini masterstroke. He brought on Roque Santa Cruz and the striker headed home a corner with his first touch to double the hosts' lead in the 77th. It will be noted in England that Santa Cruz is on loan at Malaga, and still owned by Manchester City, whose involvement in the Champions League ended at the group stage.
"Malaga had never been in the Champions League before, so the anticipation before our first game against AC Milan was incredible. We won and it made us feel settled," he told the Mail on Sunday before the first leg. "We think we can beat Porto, so why can't we dream about going to the final at Wembley?"
There was still time for Isco, one of the stars of the season, to spot Helton off his line and try and score from a corner -- that's right, from a corner! -- while the Porto goalkeeper went up for a late corner at the other end. But it was all in vain and once again, the night belonged to Isco and Pellegrini. They won't be at Malaga next season but they are sure giving the fans something to remember them by.
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