Costa's Atletico cruises, Bayern fends off Arsenal to reach CL quarters

Tuesday March 11th, 2014

Diego Costa's spectacular early goal against AC Milan helped Atletico Madrid reach the Champions League quarterfinals.
Paul White/AP

The two group winners made it to the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday but it was not all plain sailing for Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, who got past Arsenal (3-1 on aggregate) and AC Milan (5-1 on aggregate), respectively.

Here are the highlights of another intriguing night of action.

Player of the day: Diego Costa, Atletico Madrid

Two and a half minutes. 158 seconds. That's how long it took Diego Costa to evade the attention of AC Milan defender Adil Rami to volley Koke's brilliant cross, kung-fu style, to put the host 2-0 ahead in this tie.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone wanted an early goal, but he would not have wanted his side to stop playing for about 20 minutes after it, a period that almost proved very costly. Kaka did equalize (in the match, not on aggregate), but Atletico extended its two-goal aggregate lead just before halftime when Arda Turan's shot looped past Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal.

Costa carried on in the second half, showing his full range of talents: first running 60 yards with the ball, playing in Gabi whose shot hit the post. The next time he tried an acrobatic volley, he ended up making contact with Rami's head by mistake. He finished his fine night's work with a second goal -- Atletico's fourth -- to seal a 4-1 win. But it was Costa's early goal that set the tone.

The forward's partnership with Koke, proving so fruitful for Simeone this season, could be an interesting option for Spain coach Vicente del Bosque at the World Cup. Costa won his first cap for Spain in last week's friendly win against Italy; Del Bosque is known to appreciate the link-ups between players who know each other well -- helped by the fact that the majority of his side is made up of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid -- and if he wants to get the best out of Costa, Koke, also capped for the first time this season by Spain, could be his man.

Moment of the day: Lukas Podolski's push on Philipp Lahm

One minute after Bastian Schweinsteiger had extended Bayern Munich's lead to 3-0 on aggregate against Arsenal, Lukas Podolski chased a ball down the left channel and appeared to push over Philipp Lahm. While Bayern's defense seemed to stop and wait for the whistle, Podolski did no such thing: he ran on a tight angle towards goals and smashed a shot high into Manuel Neuer's near post.

It was a dramatic moment for the German back at his former club, and though Arsenal still needed two more goals, it gave us a glimpse of Bayern under some pressure. Look! There's Neuer giving the ball away under no pressure! See! Mandzukic fluffing a chance to score!

Back in December, Manchester City scored two goals in three minutes to win 3-2 in Munich. Arsenal pushed for a second but it never came. This was not the wobble that left Bayern needing the away goals rule to sneak past Arsenal 12 months ago, but it was a five-minute spell when the German champion-elect dropped below the high standard we have come to expect from it. And just for a while, it made things a bit more interesting.

That moment just sneaks in ahead of the bombshell dropped in a Munich courthouse earlier in the day; that Bayern president Uli Hoeness is alleged to have evaded €27.2m euros in tax (and not the €3.5m he was originally on trial for, nor the €18.5m that came out of the first day of the court proceedings).

Pep Guardiola had described Hoeness in the pre-match press conference as "the most important man at the club" but the question has to be for how much longer. Already, German politicians are lining up to see him resign: "He has to leave his post," Green Party leader Anton Hofreiter told Neuen Osnabrücker Zeitung.

Added SDP politician Joachim Poss: "If he had any of the decency that he claims he does, he would go now," while Left Party leader Bernd Riexinger told the Rheinische Post: "He must stand down immediately."

German newspaper Die Welt wrote, "This amounts to contempt towards German public on the highest order."

Hoeness could face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty. The judgment will come in on Thursday -- Hoeness will be hoping for leniency as he voluntarily came forward to admit his evasion (although cynics suggest a German magazine was about to report on it anyway). Perhaps The Times of London summed it up best: "Sometimes Super Clubs have problems too."

Major takeaways of the day

It was another disappointing night for Mesut Ozil, who gave the critics that have accused him of disappearing in big games a little more ammunition: even though he was replaced at halftime because of a hamstring strain. One week ago, Ozil was in Germany for the friendly win over Chile, and that evening encapsulated his season: before the game, he received the award for 2013 Player of the Year, as voted for by members of the Germany national team fan club.

But by the time he was subbed off late on, despite setting up the game's only goal for Mario Gotze, he was booed off. It was a similar story here: he played not in the central No. 10 position, but on the right flank. Was it because Arsene Wenger thought he could trouble David Alaba in that position, or would he be better than Santi Cazorla at tracking the runs of the Bayern fullback?

Neither answer was apparent as Ozil barely got a kick in the opposition half, while Alaba was one of Bayern's most dangerous players in the first period -- something that changed after Tomas Rosicky appeared in the second half.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, Kaka looked like his old self; the player who helped Milan win the Champions League in 2007, the player who cost Real Madrid €68m; and the player who, rather optimistically, declared on his return to Milan that he wanted to force his way back into the Brazil squad for the World Cup (that dream went quiet after he injured his groin in his first game back).

Minutes after Kaka had put Milan level in the game, Adel Taarabt crossed from the right and Kaka rose again from six yards out. Had it gone in, it would have been 2-2 on aggregate and Milan would have had the extra away goal. As it was, his effort just flew over the top and Atletico could breathe again. For Kaka, it might have been his last big moment in this competition.

Milan is currently in 10th place in Serie A and 20 points away from third place. It's a lot of points to make up next season to make the 2015-16 competition, but it would be a shame if this was the last we saw of Kaka. A brilliant player, and a decent guy: who else would ask his boss to forego his salary while he was unable to work, as Kaka did when he got injured earlier this season? Let's hope we see him again.

How far can Bayern and Atletico go?

Can this Bayern team become the first side since AC Milan in 1990 to successfully defend its European Cup title? Absolutely. It seemed a long shot that anyone could improve on Jupp Heynckes' treble-winners of last season, but Pep Guardiola has done just that. This weekend, Bayern could extend its unbeaten run in the Bundesliga to 50 games; it faces Bayer Leverkusen, the last team to have dealt Bayern a defeat, back in October 2012.

A look at the stats, via Bloomberg Sports, goes some way to explaining how Guardiola has improved on the Heynckes vintage. No team will want to draw Bayern in the next round.

Bayern Munich: Jupp vs. Pep
Goals per match2.883.0
Shot conversion %16.115.5
Shots per match17.219.1
Shot % inside box66.468.1
Shots assisted per match13.215.0
Big chances created per match2.73.2
Successuful dribbles per match13.620.1

Reaching the quarterfinal has to be seen as a great achievement for Atletico Madrid and in particular its coach Simeone, who was only 7 years old when Atletico last won a European Cup knockout tie, beating FC Nantes 3-2 on aggregate to reach the quarterfinals in 1977 (where it lost to Club Brugge).

Can it go any further? Why not? Simeone's run of trophies at Atletico is predicated on Cup success: the Europa League (2012), the UEFA Super Cup (2012) and the Copa del Rey (2013). Chelsea and Real Madrid were the beaten sides in the latter two finals, and Atletico, with one defeat in 23 home games all season, will have nothing to fear if it faces either of them again.

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