Champions League – Toure sets up United semi
Barcelona will face Manchester United in the semi-finals of the Champions League, after stuttering past Schalke 1-0 at the Camp Nou to complete a 2-0 aggregate victory.
Yaya Toure’s first-half strike provided the solitary high note to a wholly unconvincing performance from Frank Rijkaard’s side, who did little to defuse growing frustration among their supporters.
Armed with a 1-0 lead from the first-leg, Barca lined up with Thierry Henry and Krkic Bojan in support of Samuel Eto’o as a statement of attacking intent, but found themselves forced to defend for almost the entirety of a one-sided first half.
Schalke started with real purpose. Eight minutes in, Halil Altintop came close to levelling the tie with a wicked shot which drew a smart save from Victor Valdes. As the ball span from his glove, the Spanish international goalkeeper reacted quickly to grab hold at the second attempt.
Five minutes later Kevin Kuranyi leapt to meet Marcio Rafinia’s right-wing cross, but sent his header just wide. The German side were feverish in midfield and first to every loose ball. Barcelona were lifeless, uninspired and riding their luck.
Schalke’s next opening came as a result of excellent work from Jermaine Jones, who gathered himself before clipping a far-post cross towards Altintop. The striker lunged forward, but a decisive touch was inches beyond his reach.
As chances came and went for the visitors, they remained vulnerable to a breakaway goal from the home side. Against the run of play, one duly arrived two minutes before half-time.
Bojan broke on the right and in attempting to clear his cross Marcelo Bordon sent his clearance high into the night sky. When it finally came down, Mladen Krstajic could only cushion a header into Toure’s path, and the defender gratefully prodded home to effectively end the tie.
With the second half came greater fluency from Barcelona, as Schalke seemingly grew acceptant of their fate.
As the game grew disjointed, Carles Puyol was one of three players cautioned. The influential Barcelona captain is now ruled out of the semi-final first leg, to be played in two weeks time.
For the home fans there was still time to raise their white handkerchiefs in disgust as Bojan was withdrawn in favour of defensive midfielder Giovani. How they missed the flair and creativity of Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Deco.
Schalke saw out the game continuing to press, but their chance had past in the first half and the German side were left to reflect on an impressive campaign which exceeded expectation.
Will Tidey / Eurosport