FC Barcelona v AC Milan - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Beyond our doubts: Messi leads Barcelona to history, Champions League quarters

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It’s so easy now, after witnessing what became a route in Catalonia, to wonder why we ever doubted Barcelona, but we had good reason to think Milan would hold the two-goal lead they carried into today’s Champions League eliminator. Nobody had ever squandered that kind of a league. But perhaps more importantly, recent losses to Milan and Real Madrid (twice) provided hints Barcelona’s attack had been figured out, with good teams able to sit back and absorb the Catalans’ attack rather than waste time chasing tikis and takas.

We had every reason to think Barcelona would bow out of Champions League, but their 4-0 win (4-2, aggregate) reminded us, Milan, and the European soccer world that there’s one aspect of Barcelona’s attack that defies solution. The only options you have against Lionel Messi are containment, hope, and prayer that he doesn’t decide to do something special.

Three weeks ago at the San Siro, those options worked, but it only took five minutes for Messi to make his mark on Tuesday, the first touch on a shot from 19 yards placed immaculately into Christian Abbati’s upper-right hand corner. The ball left Messi’s foot so quickly, Milan’s defense was left frozen as the ball buckled the back of the net.

(MORE: Highlights of Messi’s brilliant opener.)

Messi added his second five minutes before half, a score produced by a Barcelona defense that was much more disruptive on Tuesday than it had been three weeks ago. In the 40th minute, as Milan attempted to transition the ball out of their final third, Andrés Iniesta forced a turnover, found Messi outside the area to the right of goal, and set up the Argentine for the equalizer. Using the lunging Philippe Mexes as a screen, Messi beat Abbiati well inside the right post, sending the matchup into halftime tied at two.

Ten minutes into the second, Barcelona’s defense created the winner, with a bold read from Javier Mascherano again disrupting Milan’s transition. The Barça defender intercepted a clearance and started a short movement that ended at the feet of David Villa. Open 15 yards out to the right of goal, Villa calmly passed the ball into the left side netting, putting Barcelona in front.

Milan’s approach was never one to play from behind. Despite three subs that changed their side, the Rossoneri couldn’t gain control of the match. The closest they came to an equalizer was a late cross for Robinho, a ball that was cut out by Jordi Alba before Victor Valdes’s help was needed.

In the 93rd minute, Alba got his reward, sprinting the length of the field to complete a counter that sealed Barcelona’s place in the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Galatasaray compounds Schalke’s season of contradictions)

With the win, Barcelona became the first team to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and advance in the Champions League, a fact that should haunt a Milan side that couldn’t muster the resiliency they leveraged three weeks ago. The Italians never posed the same threat on the counter, and the space between their midfield three and central defense proved easier to exploit. Perhaps it was too much to ask them to maintain the same standard they performed to in Milan.

And perhaps it was too much to ask them to stop Messi twice in a row. In Italy, the Ballon d’Or winner was surprisingly ineffectual. In Spain, he defined the match in the same way we expect him to define any match he starts.

Villa may have got the winner, and Alba may have provided the insurance, but it was Messi who steered his side to history. Maybe we were wrong to doubt.

WATCH: Kane’s first half hat trick includes gorgeous volley

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Harry Kane spent the first half hour of Sunday’s tilt versus Stoke torturing the visiting Potters.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli‘s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

[ WATCH: Spurs-Stoke live, replay ]

His second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant.

The third carried a bit of luck, with his low free kick taking a turn off the leg of wall end Peter Crouch to elude a lunging Grant. 3-0.

Here are the first and third, too:

Liverpool, Southampton lead EFL Cup Team of the Tournament

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The EFL Cup has named its team of the tournament ahead of Sunday morning’s final between Southampton and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

Liverpool and Southampton lead the way with two players each, while finalists Manchester United have just one player in the team.

[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea ]

That’s Ander Herrera, who joins a midfield with Sofiane Boufal (Saints), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle United), and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal).

Up top are Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, the latter for his work at Bristol City.

The back four is led by Saints’ Maya Yoshida and Hull City’s Harry Maguire, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Matty Pearson (Accrington Stanley) joining the unit.

The backstop is Leeds United’s Marco Silvestri.

Watch Live: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City (Lineups, Stream)

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Wifried Bony of Stoke City and Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur battle for possession during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The penultimate Premier League match of the weekend pits Stoke City against third-place Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Jan Vertonghen is back alongside Toby Alderweireld in the heart of Spurs’ back line, and it’s no surprise that PL Download stars Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris also start.

Geoff Cameron‘s four-month layoff appears to be reaching its end, as the USMNT back is on the subs bench for Stoke City. He last played on Oct. 22.

LINEUPS

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Winks, Sissoko, Son, Janssen.

Stoke City: Grant; Bardsley, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Whelan, Adam; Arnautovic, Allen, Ramadan; Crouch. Subs: Given; Muniesa, Berahino, Afellay, Diouf, Cameron, Imbula.

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.