Champions League: fourteen years later, Arsenal returns to the quarter-finals, accompanied by FC Barcelona

Two big names in European football, Arsenal and Barcelona, ​​joined the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday March 12

Champions League: fourteen years later, Arsenal returns to the quarter-finals, accompanied by FC Barcelona

Two big names in European football, Arsenal and Barcelona, ​​joined the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday March 12. For the Gunners, this qualification has a special flavor after fourteen years of frustration in the biggest European club competition, marked by seven consecutive eliminations at the round of 16 stage then by seven years of absence.

As in 2010, the date of its last quarter-final, Arsenal overthrew FC Porto after losing (0-1) in the first leg, to join the Top 8. The English forced the lock by winning on the same score, and finally winning after the suspense and penalties (4-2 tab). This return leg was less brilliant than at the time of Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner (5-0, after a 1-2 defeat in Porto), but the explosion of joy was no less strong at the view of the scenario, tense and indecisive.

With the advantage gained in the first leg, FC Porto played it the old-fashioned way. Sergio Conceiçao's players did everything to break the rhythm and the atmosphere, with delayed throw-ins and slow-motion passing circuits behind. This considerably annoyed the English fans and produced the desired effect, firstly, with the Gunners exhausting themselves by exerting constant pressure, but often too little useful.

Bukayo Saka certainly warmed the gloves of Diogo Costa (13th) but it still took almost half an hour for Arsenal to score their second strike, successfully this time. The captain of the Gunners, Martin Odegaard, used his genius to pierce the last defensive curtain with a sublime pass for Leandro Trossard who, with a low shot, managed to deceive the Portuguese goalkeeper (41st, 1-0).

“We play football for those moments.”

The Norwegian passer almost put on the superhero cape by scoring in his turn (67th), but the French referee, Clément Turpin, sanctioned a very light shirt pulling by Kai Havertz on Pepe in the action leading to the goal .

On the other side of the field, the Dragons in the blue and white jersey only spit out flames which David Raya extinguished without fear, before becoming the hero of the last session by stopping the penalties of the Brazilians Wendell and Galeno. “We have worked a lot on penalties this year and all the work done by the goalkeeping coach and the team has paid off,” highlighted the Spanish Arsenal goalkeeper.

As for the young Gunners, Odegaard, Saka and the two star recruits of the summer, Havertz and Declan Rice, did not tremble to offer their ecstatic supporters the night they had dreamed of for so many years.

“You play football for those moments, I’m lucky to play for Arsenal, to be in the Champions League and to make the quarter-finals. We’re just going to enjoy the evening,” added David Raya.

The youth of Barcelona

In the other match of the evening, the youth of FC Barcelona also made the difference. Once again driven by the talents of its training center, the Catalan club for its part qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2020 by beating Naples (3-1) after bringing home the draw in the first leg (1-1).

Decimated by injuries, with the absences of Gavi, Pedri, De Jong, Balde and Ferran Torres, Barça was able to count on three of its nuggets trained at the club: Pau Cubarsi, 17, Fermin Lopez, 20 and Lamine Yamal, 16 years old.

The first, central defender, was imperial alongside Araujo in muzzling the Nigerian center forward of Napoli, Victor Osimhen, scorer in the first leg and systematically put offside or stopped by the young Spaniard, elected man of the match for his first European performance. The second, established in the middle, set the tone for his team with crazy activity and initiatives that were rewarded from the 15th minute of play. The Spanish youth international showed composure to open the scoring. a flat right foot on a cross from Raphinha (1-0). He was imitated only two minutes later by the Portuguese full-back Joao Cancelo (2-0, 17th), after a counter perfectly led by his friend Lamine Yamal, untenable on his right wing.

“We have a lot of talent, we have a very young team and it’s true that they bring us a lot between Lamine, Fermin, Cubarsi also who is really very promising…”, summarized, on Canal, the Frenchman Jules Koundé, emerged victorious from his duel with Georgian phenomenon Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Two goals in quick succession which exploded the Montjuic Olympic stadium - temporary venue for Barcelona during the modernization work at the Camp Nou -, which for a few moments became the "pressure cooker" that Xavi was hoping for.

But the euphoria only lasted a few minutes, before Barça fell back into their ways and gave the Neapolitans the chance to revive, Kosovar defender Amir Rrahmani finding himself alone in the area to adjust Ter Stegen (2-1 , 30th). The German goalkeeper, fortunately vigilant on his line, then flew to deflect Politano's header over his bar and keep the advantage before the break (35th).

Xavi very upset

And as the Blaugranas like to scare themselves, they trembled throughout the second half while they had the match in hand, and came close to the correction in the 80th on a header from the incoming Lindstrom, which grazed the target . Until the arrival of Sergi Roberto, unexpected hero of the comeback against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in 2017, and came off the bench to offer the third goal to Lewandowski after a nice one-two with Gündogan (3-1, 83rd).

“This is one of my best moments as Barça coach,” declared Catalan coach Xavi, very upset after the qualification. “There was a lot of unfair criticism, we were called a 'Champions League clown'. And now what do we do? » he told a journalist at a press conference.

Barcelona will now be able to measure itself against the European elite to find out if this qualification is synonymous with a return to the table of the greats of Europe, or a simple formality given the difficulties of its opponent, unrecognizable seventh in Serie A.

There are two tickets left to take for the quarter-finals after the evening qualifications and that, last week, of PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and the defending champion Manchester City. On Wednesday, Inter Milan will try to maintain their goal lead against Atletico Madrid (1-0), and Borussia Dortmund will have the advantage of playing in front of their home crowd to defeat PSV Eindhoven after the draw obtained in the first leg in the Netherlands (1-1).