Messi gets bloody nose at Old Trafford, United vow Camp Nou upset

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling gave Barcelona mega star, Lionel Messi a bloody nose as both men clashed in an aerial challenge for a ball at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Although United lost by a Luke Shaw own goal, the Messi accident was one of the highlights of the first leg of the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.

Messi was quickly back on his feet and into the heart of the action, but it was Philippe Coutinho who came closest to extending Barca’s advantage before the break with a thunderous low shot that De Gea did brilliantly to repel with his feet.

A medic helps to restore Messi’s nose

Next week, United now have another monumental task on their hands to overturn the result and qualify for the semi-final.

United had produced one of the European Cup’s finest ever comebacks from a 2-0 first-leg defeat at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

However, on the ground where manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer completed another famous fightback to win the competition as a player in 1999, United must repeat the trick at the Camp Nou in six days’ time.

What turned out to be the winning goal by Barca came with a touch of drama of its own.

Lionel Messi drifted in behind the United defence and his cross hung up to the back post was headed goalwards by Luis Suarez, the ball flicking off Shaw on its way past David de Gea.

An errant offside flag briefly threatened to spoil Suarez’s delight. However, the goal was quickly given on a VAR review and the former Liverpool striker took extra glee at having the last laugh with a fist pump in front of the Stretford End.

The early goal should have settled the Spanish champions into their stride as their dominance of possession touched close to 90 percent in the opening stages.

Yet, they offered United plenty of encouragement with Sergio Busquets in particular off the pace.

Marcus Rashford shrugged off an ankle injury to start and provided by a distance United’s biggest threat.

United enjoyed the better of the opening stages in the second half, but lacked a creative spark to open Barca up with Paul Pogba too often picking the sideways pass rather than looking to thread the eye of a needle towards Rashford and the ineffective Romelu Lukaku.

Enugu Rangers beat Kwara Utd in Ilorin, top NPFL group

Rangers International FC of Enugu on Wednesday climbed to the top of Group A of the abridged 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), after a 2-1 victory over host, Kwara United FC of Ilorin.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that the match day six rescheduled fixture was played at the Kwara Township Stadium, Ilorin.

Ifeanyi George opened scoring for the visitors in the 25th minute, while Godwin Aguda scored the second goal for the visitors three minutes later.

Ebenezer Odeyemi reduced the deficit for the host in the 65th minute when he capitalised on Rangers defenders’ blunder to nod home Kwara United’s consolation goal.

With the result, Rangers now lead Group A with 24 points, with three games remaining.

Ronaldo scores record 125th UEFA Champions League goal

On a night that Cristiano Ronaldo gave Juventus an advantage over Ajax in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final in Amsterdam on Wednesday, he also carved a history of his own as he reached 125 goals in the League.

Of the 125 goals, 105 were scored by Ronaldo while playing for Real Madrid, where he won three successive Champions League trophy. The rest were scored by the Portuguese megastar during his years with Porto, Manchester United and now Juventus.

Barcelona magic man Lionel Messi is second to Ronaldo in the league’s all time scorers with 108 goals, all scored with Barcelona.

The rest of the field are far apart from the world’s two leading strikers.

71: Raúl González (ESP, Real Madrid, Schalke)
60: Karim Benzema (FRA, Lyon, Real Madrid)
56: Ruud van Nistelrooy (NED, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, Real Madrid)
53: Robert Lewandowski (POL, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern München)
50: Thierry Henry (FRA, Monaco, Arsenal, Barcelona)
48: Zlatan Ibrahimović (SWE, Ajax, Juventus, Internazionale Milano, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United)
48: Andriy Shevchenko (UKR, Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan, Chelsea)
46: Filippo Inzaghi (ITA, Juventus, AC Milan).

*Source: UEFA

Ronaldo gives Juventus an edge over impressive Ajax

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his return from injury with a precious away goal as Juventus drew 1-1 with an impressive Ajax in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Ronaldo subdued the 50,000 home fans in the Johan Cruyff Arena when he headed Juventus in front on the stroke of half-time to take his record goal tally in the competition to 125.

Brazilian winger David Neres conjured a stunning equaliser almost immediately after half-time to give Ajax a draw that was the very least they deserved.

However, it is Juventus — for whom substitute Douglas Costa struck a post late on — who hold the upper hand heading into next Tuesday’s return in Turin, with the winners of this tie facing Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur in the last four.

Ronaldo was back for his first appearance since suffering a thigh injury playing for Portugal last month — it was his first game for Juventus since netting the hat-trick that dumped out Atletico Madrid in the last 16.

The 34-year-old is aiming to win the trophy for the fourth year running, while Ajax are appearing at this stage of the competition for the first time since 2003.

They had set up this tie by ending Real Madrid’s European hegemony in the previous round after a thrilling 4-1 victory in Spain.

Erik ten Hag’s brilliant young side is likely to be broken up at the end of this campaign, so this may be the Amsterdam club’s best chance in a long time to win a fifth European Cup.

Having come back from losing 2-1 at home to Madrid in the first leg of the last 16, Ajax will head to Turin full of hope, although left-back Nicolas Tagliafico will be suspended for the return after being booked here.

Ronaldo and Mandzukic lead Juve’s attack at Ajax

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the Juventus starting line-up for Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal, first leg against Ajax in Amsterdam.

The Italian club’s coach Massimiliano Allegri had confirmed on Tuesday that Ronaldo would be back for the game at the Johan Cruyff Arena after recovering from a thigh injury suffered playing for Portugal last month.

He has not appeared for Juve since netting a hat-trick in their 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid last month which took them through to the quarterfinals 3-2 on aggregate, missing four Serie A games in the process.

That is one of four changes from the Juve side that started last Saturday’s 2-1 win over AC Milan in Serie A, with Joao Cancelo, Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi also coming in.

Paulo Dybala is one of those dropping to the bench, with 19-year-old sensation Moise Kean also a substitute.

Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini is out injured for the two-time European Cup winners, who defeated Ajax on penalties in the 1996 final.

Ajax coach Erik ten Hag makes one change to his team compared to the starting line-up in their 4-1 win away to holders Real Madrid in the last 16, second leg.

Right-back Noussair Mazraoui is suspended, so Joel Veltman replaces him.

Ajax (4-3-3): Andre Onana; Joel Veltman, Matthijs de Ligt (capt), Daley Blind, Nicolas Tagliafico; Donny van de Beek, Lasse Schoene, Frenkie de Jong; Hakim Ziyech, Dusan Tadic, David Neres

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Coach: Erik ten Hag (NED)

Juventus (4-3-3): Wojciech Szczesny; Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, Alex Sandro; Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Federico Bernardeschi, Mario Mandzukic (capt), Cristiano Ronaldo

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Numerous Juve fans arrested in Amsterdam

Tens of Juventus supporters have been arrested in possession of dangerous objects ahead of their Champions League quarterfinal first leg tie against Ajax in Amsterdam, Dutch police said on Wednesday.

Two separate groups were stopped by officials, the first in a metro station and the next in the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Photos of a confiscated knife, fireworks, pepper spray, flares, a hammer and a baton were handed out in a press release by law enforcement authorities in the Netherlands.

Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini said on Facebook that 120 Juve fans had been arrested but the number had not been verified.

An unknown number of Ajax fans were also caught in possession of fireworks, the BENGBENRO NEWS reported.

Stopping Messi not mission impossible for Man Utd – Solskjaer

Lionel Messi has a history of terrorising Manchester United but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes it is not impossible to stop the Barcelona star inflicting more damage in Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal.
Messi scored in both of Barca’s Champions League final victories over United, in 2009 and 2011, and is hungry to win the competition for a fifth time after crashing out at the last eight for the past three seasons.

The Argentine has been in majestic form again this season, scoring 43 goals in 40 appearances to put Barca in position for a third treble in a decade.

“He is a fantastic player and will go down in history as one of the best individual players ever,” said United boss Solskjaer ahead of the first leg of the tie at Old Trafford.

“He will be difficult to stop but it is never impossible. It’s not like it’s Messi against Manchester United.

“There is (Luis) Suarez, (Philippe) Coutinho, (Ivan) Rakitic, (Arturo) Vidal, there are so many good players we can’t just focus on one player. We know we have to play against 11 of them.”

Messi stated before the season even began that his primary target was taking the Champions League back to Catalonia after the disappointment of blowing a 4-1 first-leg lead to bow out to Roma last season.

Salt has been rubbed into the wounds for Barca because Real Madrid have won the competition in each of the past three seasons.

BARCELONA FAVOURITES

However, Madrid have failed to even reach the last eight this year and Barcelona are considered firm favourites to make the last four against a United side sitting sixth in the Premier League, despite an upturn in form since Solskjaer replaced the sacked Jose Mourinho in December.

The Red Devils, though, showed what they are capable of in the last 16 by becoming the first side ever to come back from losing the first leg of a European Cup tie 2-0 at home, beating free-spending Paris Saint-Germain on away goals.

“The game against PSG is a great example,” warned Barcelona defender and former United player Gerard Pique.

“They (PSG) were better, but you cannot let United off the hook because they have a great team and a great history as they showed in Paris.

“We learned (from Roma) that things happen, even if it seemed unimaginable that they will. We learned that you cannot let an opponent back into a tie if they are not killed off. That will help us for facing a team like United.

“If at any point we can kill off the tie, we have to do it.”

United have lost three of their four games since victory in the French capital to crash out of the FA Cup and lose ground in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

But Solskjaer says his players believe another Champions League scalp is possible against the Spanish champions.

“Of course when you get Barcelona, with the quality of their team, we know we need to step up our game,” said Solskjaer.

“We know we need to perform to our best levels, which we didn’t against PSG at home. The outcome of the second leg against PSG has given the players and supporters belief that the same is possible against Barcelona.”

Solskjaer is hopeful that Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic will be fit despite failing to take a full part in training on Tuesday.

Barca were given an injury boost with the news that Ousmane Dembele has been passed fit after a month out.

However, the French World Cup player is not expected to start, with coach Ernesto Valverde saying he does not want to take the risk of aggravating his hamstring problem.

Tottenham beat City, lose Harry Kane

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said talisman Harry Kane could be out of the rest of the season after he limped off injured in the second half of his team’s 1-0 Champions League victory against Manchester City on Tuesday.

Kane appeared to roll his left ankle in a coming-together with City’s Fabian Delph and was replaced by Lucas Moura in the 58th minute.

He was helped down the tunnel with the score still at 0-0.

Son Heung-min put Spurs ahead in the 78th minute and they held on to win the match 1-0, putting themselves in pole position with the second leg of the quarter-final to come in Manchester on April 17.

“It’s very, very sad. It’s going to be tough and we’re going to miss him — maybe for the rest of the season,” Tottenham’s Argentine coach told BT Sport.

Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said he did not know the full extent of Kane’s injury.

“Hopefully it is not too bad,” Lloris said. “I don’t know. You know the feeling when one of your best players is going off the field.

“But we stayed strong and we finished the game in the right way.”

Kane, who injured ligaments in his left ankle during Tottenham’s Premier League defeat against Manchester United on January 13, only returned in late February, missing seven matches.

It was the third successive season the Spurs talisman has missed games due to an ankle injury.

The 25-year-old, the winner of the Golden Boot at last year’s World Cup, has scored 27 goals for club and country this season.

Tottenham are fourth in the Premier League, chasing a Champions League place for next season.

England boss Gareth Southgate will also be concerned, with the Nations League Finals looming.

Klopp urges Liverpool to fight again in Porto second leg

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said his team had to “fight again” after beating Porto 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Anfield on Tuesday.

Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino struck inside the first 26 minutes to put the hosts in command and Liverpool’s only regret may be not building a more emphatic lead to take to northern Portugal for next week’s second leg.

“We are happy, it is the first leg and it will be an intense second game,” Klopp told BT Sport. “We scored two goals and controlled the ball most of the time.

“We gave a few too many set pieces away. I think Porto score about 40 percent of their goals from set pieces. We also saw one or two counter-attacks, but the rest of the game we played really well.

“We lost a little bit of direction in the second half, but there’s nothing to criticise, 2-0 is a very, very good result.

“We knew we had to play the second game and we cannot decide the tie tonight, so now we have to go there and fight again.”

Liverpool’s only regret may be not building a more emphatic lead to take to Portugal for next week’s second leg.

However, a fourth clean sheet in five home Champions League games this season means an away goal at the Estadio do Dragao on April 17th will leave Porto needing four to progress.

“We have to go there, we have to fight, Porto will do everything to strike back but that’s how it should be in the Champions League quarter-finals,” added Klopp.

Liverpool thrashed the Portuguese giants 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie last season and the scoreline could have been just as embarrassing for Sergio Conceicao’s men had the hosts been more accurate in front of goal.

It took the hosts just five minutes to open the scoring as Keita got his second goal in as many games having waited nine months to open his Liverpool account.

The Guinean got the benefit of a big deflection off Oliver Torres as his strike from the edge of the area left veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas helpless.

Liverpool, who were finalists in the Champions League last year, are top of the Premier League.

*AFP

Liverpool ease past Porto to close on UCL semis

Liverpool closed in on a Champions League semifinal meeting with Barcelona or Manchester United as Porto were swept aside 2-0 in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie at Anfield.

Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino struck inside the first 26 minutes to put the hosts in command and Liverpool’s only regret may be not building a more emphatic lead to take to northern Portugal for next week’s second leg.

However, a fourth clean sheet in five home Champions League games this season means an away goal at the Estadio do Dragao on April 17th will leave Porto needing four to progress.

Liverpool thrashed the Portuguese giants 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie last season and the scoreline could have been just as embarrassing for Sergio Conceicao’s men had the hosts been more accurate in front of goal.

It took Jurgen Klopp’s men just five minutes to open the scoring as Keita got his second goal in as many games having waited nine months to open his Liverpool account.

The Guinean got the benefit of a big deflection off Oliver Torres as his strike from the edge of the area left veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas helpless.

Minutes later Firmino was galloping into acres of space in behind the Porto defence, but this time his deflected effort drifted just beyond Casillas’s far post.

Mohamed Salah ended his eight-game goal drought as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League table with a 3-1 win at Southampton on Friday, but the Egyptian got his angles wrong when he failed to hit the target with just Casillas to beat.

PORTO’S SLACK DEFENDING

Conceicao was visibly furious with his side’s slack defending, but Porto could easily have got back into the tie when Alisson Becker saved well with his feet from Moussa Marega.

Liverpool then had to survive a VAR review for a potential handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold as Alisson palmed the ball into his fullback.

Soon, though, Alexander-Arnold was helping twist the knife into Porto at the other end with his eighth assist of the season.

Jordan Henderson, playing in a more advanced midfield position than normal, cut the visitors’ defence open for the England international to square for Firmino to tap into an empty net.

Liverpool have become accustomed to winning games late in recent weeks in their bid for a first Premier League title in 29 years.

However, Klopp’s men seemed keen to kill the tie off before their trip to Portugal as Firmino blazed a great chance from Henderson’s pinpoint pass off target.

Only a matter of centimetres denied Liverpool a third early in the second half when another excellent Henderson cross picked out Sadio Mane to volley home, but the Senegalese was flagged offside.

Marega kept plugging away to try and find the away goal that would pull Porto back into the tie, but only one of his many second-half efforts forced Alisson into a comfortable save.

The fine balance Liverpool must strike in maintaining their quest for European glory alongside ending a long wait for a top-flight title was in evidence as Klopp withdrew Mane and Firmino in the final quarter with one eye on Sunday’s league visit of Chelsea.

However, that proved a luxury that Liverpool could afford to take as they look set for a second Champions League semifinal in as many years.