Barcelona qualify for Champions League final

10:28, May 04, 2011      

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Barcelona's players throw team-mate Eric Abidal (top) in the air as they celebrate beating Real Madrid to qualify for the final during their Champions League semi-final second leg soccer match at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, May 3, 2011.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

FC Barcelona qualified for the final of the Champions League on Tuesday night after drawing 1-1 at home to Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi- final.

Pedro Rodriguez opened the score for Barcelona in the second half and although Marcelo's equalizer with 25 minutes remaining gave the Catalans some nervous moments, Barca were the better side over the two legs and made their 2-0 win in Santiago Bernabeu stadium last week.

As expected, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola fielded his strongest available side with Carles Puyol filling in at left back and Javier Mascherano in central defense. Andres Iniesta, who had been injured for the first leg returned in midfield.

Jose Mourinho sprang a surprise in his starting 11 without the suspended duo of Sergio Ramos and Pepe. He opted to bring Gonzalo Higuain and Kaka into the team, doing away with the defensive trident he had aligned in the previous three matches against Barca and looking to attack.

Mourinho, who was suspended and not allowed in the Madrid dugout or to communicate with his players during the match, must have been pleased at his side's start to the game, as Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain and Angel De Maria looked to pressure Barca high up the park and the home side looked uncomfortable.

However, once Barcelona broke through the first line of pressure, there was more space in midfield and Ricardo Carvalho was booked before the quarter hour for briskly ending a mess run.

It was more akin to a game of chess than a football match as both sides cancelled each other out in midfield and the first chance came when Sergio Busquets headed straight at Iker Casillas from a corner after 20 minutes.

As the half wore on Madrid began to suffer their physical efforts and Barcelona carved out a series of chances, Casillas produced good saves to deny Messi twice and David Villa, while Messi also shot wide when he usually hits the target.

All Madrid offered in reply was a break from Ronaldo, whose low cross to De Maria was cut out by Barca keeper Victor Valdes.

The second half began in controversial fashion as Higuain put the ball into the Barca net only for the referee to rule his effort out for a previous foul from Ronaldo, who was unfortunate to bring down Mascherano after losing balance.

Pedro Rodriguez opened the scoring after 53 minutes, finishing low with his left foot following a magnificent Iniesta pass.

The goal left Madrid needing to score three goals to qualify and they looked to have lost concentration for a few minutes before De Maria helped set Marcelo up for the equalizer on 65 minutes. De Maria saw a shot rebound off the post and when it dropped at his feet, he kept his calm to tee up Marcelo from close range.

It was the first and only shot Madrid managed on target all night and although Ronaldo threatened on occasions to create clear chances in the closing minutes.

Barca fans had one final reason to celebrate in the last minute of the game as Eric Abidal returned to action less than two months after undergoing an operation to remove a tumor from his liver.

Madrid will claim they recovered some pride following last weekend's debacle, but it's Barca who will deservedly play in Wembley on May 28.

Source: Xinhua

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