PARIS – Barcelona’s hopes of winning the Champions League for the fourth time in eight seasons are hanging by a thread after a 2-0 defeat to AC Milan on Wednesday, while Galatasaray and Schalke played out an entertaining 1-1 draw.
The Catalans may be running away with La Liga, but they met their match in Milan in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the same venue where they suffered a fatal defeat to Inter Milan in the 2010 semifinals.
As they usually do, Barca monopolized possession in San Siro Stadium, but they were made to pay for their complete lack of a cutting edge as they mustered just two attempts on target all evening.
Milan, which is unbeaten in seven Serie A games in 2013, set out to frustrate the visitors but it also managed to pose a threat at the other end, and second-half goals from Ghanaian duo Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were the difference on this night.
Boateng volleyed home from the edge of the area just before the hour mark after a Riccardo Montolivo free kick appeared to come off the arm of Cristian Zapata and into his path.
Barcelona’s protests were waved away by Scottish referee Craig Thomson as Milan’s 400th European Cup goal was allowed to stand, and the visitors’ night took another, greater, turn for the worse nine minutes from time.
A delicious flick by Stephan El Shaarawy set up Sulley Muntari, who showed exquisite technique to volley past Victor Valdes.
“Milan was really well organized and in the first half we controlled the game but we didn’t create as many chances as we’d have liked,” acknowledged Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura, who still believes the tie can be saved.
“The result is what it is — it’s a setback, but it’s not a disaster.”
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri described the result as “a great win for us” and added that he “never believed we would be going to the Nou Camp with a 2-0 advantage.”
The night’s other game in Istanbul may not have appeared as glamorous, but there was still plenty of intrigue surrounding a Galatasaray side that had recent signings Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba in its ranks as it faced Schalke.
It was another Galatasaray player that grabbed the limelight, though, as the hosts took a 12th-minute lead.
A thumping finish from Burak Yilmaz for his seventh goal in seven games in this season’s Champions League opened the scoring, and former Schalke player Hamit Altintop then rattled the crossbar.
However, Schalke had chances too and got an equalizer on the stroke of halftime at the end of a blistering counterattack, with Jefferson Farfan setting up Jermaine Jones to thump home first time.
“We are really happy with the result,” said Jones, as Schalke, struggling domestically just now, goes into the second leg with the upper hand.
“We made one or two mistakes and conceded the goal, but all together we played well.
“Our goal was important, we’ll see how things go from here. We have earned a lot of respect.”
Galatasaray midfielder Nordin Amrabat admitted: “The formula for victory is very simple now: we need to score and win, but it won’t be easy.”
The second legs of both ties will be played March 12.