FC Barcelona edge out Manchester City 2-1, as Spaniards reach UEFA Champions League quarterfinal (4-1, agg.)

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FC Barcelona beat Manchester City 2-1 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, as the Spanish giants won 4-1 on aggregate after a spirited effort from the Citizens.

A brave display from City, especially at the start of the second half, saw Edin Dzeko stopped superbly by Victor Valdes and Pablo Zabaleta spurn another great chance as the Citizens had the home side rocking for a while.

However just when City looked to be on top and were causing the hosts problem, Messi popped up to capitalize on a small mistake from Joleon Lescott and dink the ball past a helpless Joe Hart for his 67th Champions League goal in his 84th appearance, and put Barca 1-0 to the good.

City pushed bravely to get back into the game, but a clear penalty kick was waved away late on after Gerard Pique’s foul on Edin Dzeko and City’s remonstrations saw Pablo Zabaleta sent off for dissent. In the 88th minute City’s superb captain Vincent Kompany poked in an equalizer to make it 1-1, but Barcelona sealed their passage to to the last eight as Dani Alves finished in the 90th minute to make it 2-1.

Barcelona march on to the Champions League quarterfinals, as in the space of a few days City’s hopes of winning an unprecedented quadruple has now diminished into concentrating on the Premier League title to go along with their League Cup success.

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A bright start from City saw the Premier League side pile forward and force the issue against Barcelona, with marauding runs from David Silva and Fernandinho causing plenty of problems. However City’s energetic start was countered by Messi’s clever running, as first Lescott looked to have tripped up the Argentine in the box, but no penalty was given. Then in the 11th minute Messi skipped past two challenges before Joe Hart smothered the ball at his feet and the rebound was scrambled away to safety.

City composed themselves and continued to press high up the pitch to try and stop Barca from dictating the tempo of the game. In the 15th minute the away side got their first look on goal as Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a delightful ball from the left that James Milner tried to direct goalwards but the ball flew wide with Sergio Aguero lurking. Barcelona then had the ball in the net moments later, but Jordi Alba was adjudged to have strayed offside as his cross was finished off by Neymar but the goal was chalked off for offside. Alba looked to be onside, as City got away with one.

Barcelona were trying to break down City’s stubborn defense who continued to play a dangerously high line on the edge of their own box, but to their credit the Citizens were digging in and trying to create and build attacks of their own as the first half wore on.

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City’s players were demoralized, as their first appearance in the UCL knockout round ended in defeat.

In the 38th minute Kolarov let Neymar get past him but Barca’s Brazilian attacker saw his shot deflected wide as City battened down the hatches before half time. Yet in the 41st minute City  broke and had a great chance to go ahead, as a sumptuous back heel from Silva found Nasri 12-yards out but the Frenchman smashed his volley straight at Valdes as Barcelona’s fans and players breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Just before the interval Neymar took the ball around Hart but City’s ‘keeper followed him to the edge of the box and as the Brazilian winger dinked the ball over his head, Fernandinho headed the ball off the line to keep the score 0-0 at half time. During the interval

After the break City once again took the game to Barca as Silva hit a snapshot straight at Valdes less then a minute into the second half. But then Messi danced past Lescott and slotted his shot past Hart but the ball bounced off the post and City managed to clear as Barcelona came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock. In the 51st minute Dzeko rose highest to head a clipped ball from Kolarov towards the top corner, but Valdes pulled off a terrific save to tip the ball over the bar. The game continued to ebb and flow, as City searched for a way back into the tie as Barca tried to kill them off. In the 54th minute another great pull back from Kolarov found Zabaleta on the edge of the box but the Argentine player shanked his effort horribly wide as another glorious chance went begging. City continued to make all the pressing in the second half as Barca limped towards the UCL quarterfinals in a less than impressive display. In the 60th minute a great run from Fernandinho saw Yaya Toure find him with a delicate pass and only a last-ditch tackle from Pique thwarted the City man as he broke free in the box.

Despite all that pressing from City, in the 67th minute Messi put the tie beyond doubt. The Argentine superstar scored his eighth goal in five UCL games this season after Cesc Fabregas played a ball through that Lescott somehow failed to clear, then Messi latched onto the loose ball and dinked the ball home calmly to put Barca 1-0 up.

City kept battling away but Barcelona kicked into full possession mode as the Citizens struggled for the remainder of the game. In the 77th minute a pivotal moment arrived as Dzeko dribbled past Pique and was taken down by the Spanish defender in the box for what seemed to be a clear penalty, but referee Stephane Lannoy waved away the appeals of City’s players. Zabaleta took things too far and was shown a second yellow card and given his marching orders.

Barcelona failed to see the game out with a clean sheet as Kompany popped up to equalize in the dying stages to make it 1-1. But, as they so often do, the Catalan club had the last say as Alves smashed home from close range after Andres Iniesta had rounded Hart to compound City’s misery.

LINEUPS

FC Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Fabregas (Sergi, 85), Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Neymar (Sanchez, 80)

Goals: Messi (67′), Alves (90′)

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Milner, Silva (Negredo, 72), Nasri (Jesus Navas, 74), Aguero (Dzeko, 45)

Goal: Kompany (88)

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.