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Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk advance to quarterfinals of European Champions League

Barcelona beats Arsenal, 3-1, scoring twice after Robin van Persie gets his second yellow card and is ejected.

March 08, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Arsenal's Robin van Persie, right, reacts after receiving a red card from referee Massimo Busacca during Barcelona's 3-1 Champions League victory over Arsenal on Tuesday.
Arsenal's Robin van Persie, right, reacts after receiving a red card… (Gaustau Nacarino / Reuters )

On a day when the quality of soccer refereeing at the highest level once again was brought into question, Barcelona of Spain and Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine swept into the quarterfinals of the European Champions League.

Barcelona, beaten, 2-1, by Arsenal in London in the first leg, returned the favor Tuesday with a 3-1 victory in Spain to win the round-of-16 series, 4-3 on aggregate.

Lionel Messi scored twice for Barcelona, bringing his season total to a staggering 45 goals in 40 games in all competitions.

But even the brilliant Argentine's performance took second place, at least in English headlines, to the bizarre officiating of Switzerland's Massimo Busacca, who reduced Arsenal to 10 men in the 56th minute when he ejected Dutch striker Robin van Persie.

Busacca gave the forward a second yellow card when he fired a shot wide of the Barcelona net after Busacca had whistled the play offside. Replays showed that only one second had elapsed between the offside call and Van Persie's shot, and with a crowd of 95,000 at the Camp Nou in full cry, Van Persie might easily not have heard the whistle.

Arsenal Coach Arsene Wenger said the call, which came with the game tied and Arsenal leading on aggregate, made all the difference.

"At the moment he [Busacca] made his decision it was a very promising game, very interesting," Wenger said. "If you have played football at a certain level you cannot understand this decision. It's impossible.

"I felt we would have come back into the game. Overall, I am convinced we would have won this game."

Perhaps, but Barcelona, which last won the competition in 2009, dominated the game from start to finish. Arsenal did not take a single shot, Van Persie's effort not counting because it came after play had been whistled dead.

The lone goal for the Gunners was an own goal, scored by Barcelona defender Sergio Busquets, who mistakenly headed a corner kick into his own net.

Barcelona had 68% of the possession and took 17 shots, 10 on target, as Coach Josep "Pep" Guardiola's side maintained control throughout.

"We played a fantastic game against 11 players and also when they were reduced to 10," Guardiola said. "We prevented them from stringing more than three passes together and created lots of chances ourselves.

"You can highlight the goals scored by Messi or the passes of [Andrés] Iniesta, but you also need to look at players like [Javier] Mascherano, who cut out opposition passes. We are so happy with our performance and I think we deserve to be in the quarterfinals."

Wenger had to agree.

"We were beaten by a terrific side, the best in Europe," he said. "We are out, but when you play against Barcelona you know it will be difficult."

The other game Tuesday saw AS Roma of Italy travel to Ukraine to play Shakhtar Donetsk, a team that had upset Roma, 3-2, in Rome in the first leg.

That defeat contributed to the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri as Roma's coach, but his successor, Vincenzo Montella, fared no better against a Ukrainian side loaded with South American talent.

Playing in temperatures that dipped to seven below freezing, Shakhtar scored a 3-0 victory in front of 45,000 fans at the Donbass Arena to take the series, 6-2 on aggregate.

Brazilian players netted all the goals on Tuesday, two by Willian and one by Brazilian-born Croatian international Eduardo, as Shakhtar, a UEFA Cup winner in 2009, advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time.

Again, the referee played a part.

This time it was England's Howard Webb. He failed to spot a violent off-the-ball foul by Roma's captain, Daniele De Rossi, who threw a forearm into the face of Shakhtar's Darijo Srna. Webb also failed to blow for a foul when Marco Borriello clattered studs-first into Srna.

Borriello's mood might have been soured by having seen his first-half penalty kick saved by Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.

By the time of the De Rossi and Borriello incidents, Webb already had reduced Roma to 10 men by sending Roma's French international defender Philippe Mexes to an early shower for his second yellow-card offense.

"One cannot think that we won only because Roma were reduced to 10 men," said Shakhtar Coach Mircea Lucescu. "We played very well against 11 men too, and would have won as well."

Roma left its most iconic player, Francesco Totti, on the bench, signaling that the 34-year-old veteran's time might be up.

"We played a good game," said Montella, Roma's coach, "but once again we finished with 10 men and we had a few players booked for fouls we could have avoided. I think we are improving and we shouldn't be demoralized by this defeat — that was the main problem in the team when I arrived."

Having been reduced to 14 teams on Tuesday, the Champions League field will lose another two teams on Wednesday.

Seven-time champion AC Milan travels to England to play Tottenham Hotspur, which won their first-leg game, 1-0, in Milan. Also, Valencia of Spain travels to German to play Schalke '04. The teams played to a 1-1 tie in Valencia.

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