Barca blunted by Blues
Barcelona's much-touted attacking unit fired blanks on Tuesday as they were held 0-0 by Chelsea at Camp Nou.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 28/04/09 9:43pm
Barcelona's much-touted attacking unit fired blanks on Tuesday as they were held 0-0 by Chelsea in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
The Primera Liga giants have been in awesome form this season, especially at home, but were unable to find a way past their resolute English opponents.
The steep sides of the intimidating Camp Nou will have had Chelsea feeling as though they had entered a gladiatorial arena prior to kick-off, with their European fate set to be sealed over the course of a do-or-die 90 minutes of action.
With those thoughts perhaps still running through their mind as the game got underway, the Blues were given an almost immediate reminder of the challenge which lay ahead when Samuel Eto'o snuck in at the back post and almost squared for Thierry Henry to tap home.
As it was the Cameroon international had strayed offside and any effort from Henry would not have counted anyway, but Chelsea breathed an early sigh of relief.
Guus Hiddink's men did carve out the next opening, as Frank Lampard bombed forward in typical style, but the forward-thinking midfielder curled a controlled strike past the post.
Unfortunately for the visitors it was Andres Iniesta who soon took control of proceedings and the baby-faced playmaker was proving to be an elusive character.
Lionel Messi was also starting to get the measure of make-shift left-back Jose Bosingwa, much to the concern of those from Stamford Bridge.
Iniesta, Xavi and Messi all tried their luck from distance as the game ticked towards the half-hour mark, but Petr Cech remained relatively unchallenged.
The Czech keeper could not afford to rest on his laurels, though, as on 34 minutes former Arsenal talisman Henry almost came back to haunt the Blues as he produced a stinging drive which needed touching past the post.
Despite Barca's dominance at this stage there were nagging doubts about their defensive solidarity and their ability to keep Chelsea quiet for the duration of the game.
Those fears proved to be well-founded as a dreadful error from Rafael Marquez provided the in-form Didier Drogba with the sort of opportunity he has been snapping up for fun of late.
However, on this occasion the Ivorian's composure deserted him and he was denied by a fantastic double save from Victor Valdes.
Iniesta then brought a goalless first half to a close with an ambitious drive from distance, allowing Chelsea to enter the interval much the happier and thinking how they would go about hanging onto what they had.
Attack was seemingly the best form of defence for Hiddink and it was the men from West London that came agonisingly close to forcing a breakthrough moments after the restart as Michael Ballack glanced a Drogba free-kick inches over the top.
An innocuous injury suffered by Marquez, which forced him off, halted play for a considerable period of time soon after and much of the fluency which had been built up was lost momentarily.
Unsurprisingly it was Barca who were quickest back into their stride and the buccaneering Dani Alves forced Cech in a smart dash from his line as he burst into the box unopposed.
Messi then had the Blues worried after an hour as he lined up a left-footed volley from 12 yards out, but for once the Argentine magician's radar was off and he could only fire high into the stands.
The hosts were now flying and Alves, who was finding space with alarming ease, stretched Cech with a drilled effort which could have gone anywhere after being beaten away by the Chelsea keeper.
The Brazilian full-back then rippled the netting with a dipping 30-yard free-kick, but he could only found the roof of the goal.
Chelsea were rocking badly as Barca upped the tempo and Cech had to be at his best to deny Eto'o once the African ace had skipped away from lame challenges from Alex and John Terry.
To the bemusement of most of those in attendance, Hiddink's ploy to stem the tide saw him haul off Frank Lampard and send on former Barca favourite Juliano Belletti.
With a little over 15 minutes remaining, and with the Blues adjusting to their new tactical approach, the Catalan public were on their feet to a man as Henry tumbled in the box under pressure from Bosingwa, but the referee remain unmoved.
Mr Stark did take action moments later, though, when Malouda was clattered by Carles Puyol, brandishing a yellow card which will keep the Barca defender out of the return leg.
Half-chances then came and went at both ends as the game meandered slowly towards the kind of stalemate few had foreseen during the pre-match hype.
Substitutes Bojan Krkic and Alexander Hleb were awarded golden opportunities to snatch a late winner for the Spaniards, but the former nodded over from close range when it appeared easier to score and the latter was denied by a sprawling stop from the impressive Cech.
Barca will still fancy their chances as attentions now turn to Stamford Bridge, with an away goal by no means outside of their capabilities, but Chelsea will be delighted to be heading home on level terms and very much in the hunt for a place in a second consecutive final.
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|6||Shots on Target||1|
|9||Shots off Target||2|