Barcelona, Bayern Cruise into Semis

By The Associated Press 4 April 2012

Lionel Messi swept holders Barcelona into the Champions League semifinals for the fifth successive year on Tuesday while becoming the competition’s most prolific scorer in a single season.

The Argentina forward scored a pair of first-half penalty kicks and Andres Iniesta added another goal after the break to give Barcelona a 3-1 victory over AC Milan following a 0-0 draw in Italy.

Messi’s 14th Champions League goal this season surpassed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s tally in the 2002-03 campaign.

Ivica Olic also scored twice on Tuesday to ensure Bayern Munich joined fellow four-time champion Barcelona in the semifinals.

Bayern emulated its 2-0 first-leg victory over Marseille to advance 4-0 on aggregate.

Barcelona was helped by the two penalties against Milan — the second for the type of shirt pulling in the area that often goes unpunished — but coach Pep Guardiola said the victory was well deserved.

“You can talk all you want about referees but that makes it five straight semifinals, the fruits of our talent and a lot of work,” Guardiola said. “We deserved more than to just get through so I’m satisfied.”

Bayern will likely face Real Madrid in the semifinals, with the Spanish leaders protecting a 3-0 lead over Cypriot team APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday. Chelsea will play Barcelona in the last four if the London club can defend a 1-0 lead over Benfica.

But with Pep Guardiola’s side seemingly impervious in Europe, Barca is primed to become the first team to defend the European Cup since the Champions League’s inception in the 1992-93 season.

Protecting Messi will be key, though, with the Argentina forward having already netted 58 goals this season in all competitions.

He slotted his first into the net after 11 minutes at the Camp Nou after being brought down in the penalty area by Luca Antonini.

There was a brief response from the Italian champions against the run of play, with Antonio Nocerino leveling in the 32nd.

Robinho picked out Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the former Barcelona striker slipped the ball through for Nocerino to strike past Victor Valdes.

But that away goal wasn’t enough for Milan as Messi restored the hosts’ lead in the 41st from the spot after Alessandro Nesta hauled Sergio Busquets down. Messi’s 14th European Cup goal of the season matched Mazzola Altafini’s 49-year-old record.

“Sometimes the referee made too many concessions,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “I don’t know if it proved decisive. We made a mistake on the first penalty but he helped on the second. Playing Barca is never easy.”

While Messi was denied a hat trick at the start of the second half when his shot was blocked, the ball fell for Iniesta to extend Barca’s lead from a tight angle.

“We had to work really hard against a great side and we are thrilled to be in the semifinals,” Iniesta said.

Milan has not reached the semifinals since winning the Champions League in 2007.

But Bayern is into the last four for the second time in the three years thanks in part to Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes resting Mario Gomez in favor of Olic.

And on a rare start, Olic delivered.

His first goal was an easy tap-in into the net in the 13th after former Marseille player Franck Ribery glided past the visiting defense to set up the Croatian.

Ribery also helped to create the second by feeding David Alaba down the left flank, and the Austrian midfielder crossed for Olic to nip ahead of his marker and score from close range.

“Both goals were very well played,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said. “I’m happy for Olic because he not only played well, but he scored and had a huge impact on the game. He’s a bonus for the rest of the season. We have hard matches ahead of us and I need players like him who can decide games.”