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AC Milan, Valencia fall from European Champions League tournament

Tottenham Hotspur, Schalke '04 advance to the quarterfinals, joining Barcelona and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.

March 09, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones

With Arsenal and AS Roma having fallen by the wayside Tuesday, it was the turn of two more soccer powers to be ousted from the European Champions League on Wednesday.

Seven-time champion AC Milan did everything it could to survive, but its 0-0 tie with Tottenham Hotspur in London was not enough to overturn a 1-0 first-leg loss in Italy and the Serie A leader was toppled.

Similarly, Valencia ended its involvement in the tournament at the round-of-16 stage when it was beaten, 3-1, by Schalke '04 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, after the teams had tied, 1-1, in Spain.

So Spurs and Schalke join Barcelona and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk in the quarterfinals, with the other four quarterfinalists to be determined next week.

The tense match at White Hart Lane was the focus of most neutral fans' attention Wednesday, with many wondering whether Tottenham's players had it in them to withstand the AC Milan onslaught.

It turns out they did, earning the scoreless tie to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1962, when Spurs made it to the semifinals in what was then known as the European Cup.

Coach Harry Redknapp's team produced a gritty defensive performance to hold off the likes of Brazilian stars Robinho and Alexandre Pato, not to mention Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

AC Milan outshot Tottenham, 11-6, and had a 5-4 edge in corner kicks, but its offensive pressure paid no dividend and the vital series-tying goal never came.

"I thought we played very well, we made all the chances," Milan Coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "The players worked very hard and the only mistake we made is that we did not score a goal, and that's what we have been punished for.

"So from tomorrow morning we will focus on winning the Serie A title. I think we deserved more, because apart from the first half of the first leg we were the better team."

AC Milan leads the Italian league by five points over rival Inter Milan, which won the European Champions League last season but is poised to be eliminated this time around unless it can overcome Bayern Munich in Germany next week.

Meanwhile, Tottenham finds itself in the last eight, a feat that Redknapp happily labeled "a fantastic achievement."

Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes led the way for Spurs with some excellent saves, Brazilian defensive midfielder Sandro was superb all game and French defender William Gallas also made some timely interventions to keep AC Milan at bay.

The closest the Italian team came to scoring was on two efforts by Robinho, one of which was goal-bound before being cleared off the line by Gallas and the other a shot that flew just over the bar in injury time.

It all left Redknapp a bit breathless.

"To have beaten [defending champion] Inter Milan in the group stage and now AC Milan, well, anything else is a bonus," he said. "Two years ago, no one would have believed we could do this. That's the improvement we've made."

In Germany, meanwhile, Schalke '04 had to come from behind to defeat its Spanish visitor.

Ricardo Costa gave Valencia the lead with a headed goal just 17 minutes into the match at the Arena AufSchalke and it took the German team, lying in 10th place in the Bundesliga, until five minutes before halftime to draw level.

Peruvian offensive midfielder Jefferson Farfan slammed in a free kick to make it 1-1 in the 40th minute, and Mario Gavranovic put Schalke in front with a goal seven minutes into the second half.

The game was won by the time Farfan netted his second goal deep into injury time, but it did not stop him from celebrating.

"I hope I gave the fans something to smile about," he said.

Valencia, third in Spain's La Liga behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, had 58% of the possession but was outshot, 13-9, by Schalke. Afterward, Coach Unai Emery bemoaned the result.

"It's so disappointing," he said. "With everything in our favor, we managed to throw it all away. It's incomprehensible. ... I went back into the dressing room so down that I couldn't say anything to the players, but in reality I can't hold them responsible for anything. In a game where we had more chances than ever, we lost. ... We can't talk about bad luck tonight; we needed to be assertive and we weren't."

His counterpart, Schalke Coach Felix Magath, was more relieved than anything.

"After we conceded [the early goal by Costa] it got better as we had nothing to lose anymore," Magath said. "Then we fought back, but the situation was quite dicey and I would have liked Jefferson [Farfan] to score the [third] goal earlier.

"We had [goalkeeper] Manuel Neuer and a bit of luck, but that's what you need in order to reach the next round. The air gets thinner the higher you get, but we take it as it comes."

Champions League play resumes March 15.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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