Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It Happened in Europe: PSG handles Chelsea and Benfica survives Russia

Zenit St. Petersburg 1-2 Benfica (1-3 on aggregate)
Benfica got themselves a one goal win in the first leg, but a trip to the cold heart of Russia is not an easy thing for any club to handle. They held their own for quite some time, though. It wasn't until Hulk's close range header put Zenit ahead in the 69th minute that they truly felt any pressure. In the 85th minute, Benfica took control. Nicolas Gaitan pounced on a rebound following an acrobatic save by Yuri Lodygin for an easy equalizer that put the Portuguese up in the tie. Talisa and his fancy footwork put it away in stoppage time to send Benfica to the quarterfinals.

Chelsea 1-2 Paris-St. Germain (2-4 on aggregate)
Chelsea would need to take care of the French giants without their leader, John Terry, who was still nursing a sore hamstring. The Blues' defensive weaknesses were evident early. PSG was on the ball for the vast majority of the early game. They had a goal called back from offsides before Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 16th minute low cross found the feet of Adrien Rabiot for a goal that would make the Chelsea comeback efforts much more difficult. Now needing a pair of goals to force extra time, Chelsea began to come alive after conceding. Diego Costa provided the first of those necessary goals. In the 27th minute the Spanish-Brazilian forward fired a low shot inside the near post to level the score and get the Blues within a goal on aggregate. The home side would be the better one heading into halftime, getting a couple of half chances before the whistle blew.

The second half lacked the fire and intensity of the first. PSG were a little more defensive out of fear they might concede an extra time forcing goal. The Parisians were still able to attack, though, and it paid off for them. Ibrahimovic turned receiver of a 67th minute cross by Angel di Maria for an easy second goal. That pretty much sunk Chelsea. They had lost the away goals tie breaker and needed a pair of goals in a little more than 20 minutes to go through. The PSG defense was much too stout for them to even get one.

I am really curious to see how far Paris-St. germain can take their Champions league run. They are a quality side that hasn't been challenged in their domestic league this season. Their only dropped points in continental play this year have been a 0-0 draw and 1-0 loss to Real Madrid. It's not like they weren't competitive in either of those matches either. So, with a little bit of luck in the draw, a spot in the semi-finals is not out of the question. Favorable draws include Wolfsburg, Benfica, or, heck, I'd pick them over Manchester City right now. Again, some luck in the semis could see them through to the final. Where they would likely be curb stomped by Barcelona.

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