Brilliant Messi, fighting Germans send England packing


Hamburg: Brilliant Leo Messi and fighting Germans with a touch of Dutch genius made sure that English interest in the European Champions League ended in the quarter-finals on Wednesday night.

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The Premier League provided three semi-finalists in the three past seasons, an all-English final between Manchester United and Chelsea in 2008 and a finalist every year since 2005. Now England have missed the semis for the first time in seven years.

“The Premier League’s hold on Europe is broken,” said The Guardian Thursday. The Times said: “After the feast, the famine.”

Messi’s four-goal gala for Barcelona accounted for Arsenal as the holders now meet Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Stubborn Munich roared from 3-0 down to a 3-2 defeat, completed by Robben’s astonishing volley, at Old Trafford which sent them through on away goals into adate with Olympique Lyon in the other semi.

“To talk of regression might be to fall into the trap of lumping results together rather than considering each let-down on its merits but the least that can be said is that Liverpool are in reverse, Chelsea were no match for Mourinho, Arsenal look effete against elite opposition and United have endured the eight-day hell of a Champions League exit and a 2-1 home defeat by Chelsea,” said The Guardian.

However, The Times said it was too early to determine whether the demise will continue, with unforeseeable consequences on the economic front.

“In time, there may be cause for our clubs to worry as (UEFA president Michel) Platini9s ‘financial fair play’ rules take hold, or the broadcast revenues dwindle, but for now we can hold off the national inquest or the headlines about the demise of the Premier League,” it said.

After all, the other superpowers Spain and Italy have been through similar lows after dominating the event. Barca may be the most dazzling team on planet football right now but they have won the

Champions competition “just” three times.

Barca must be rated light favourites, but Mourinho will likely have a few ideas up his sleeves for his Inter team to stop Messi and company – as he already demonstrated by outwitting his former club Chelsea in the round of 16.

“Barcelona, too, have to worry. Inter have already played against them (drawing 0-0 and losing 2-0 in the group phase) and Mourinho had a chance to watch them well,” said former Inter idol Sandro Mazzola.

Inter’s 2-0 defeat at the Nou Camp was their only of the campaign and the second tie on April 20 in Milan and April 28 in Barcelona will again offer a fascinating contrast of styles.

The Lyon v Munich tie on April 21 and 27 appears wide open with two wins for each team and two draws in the previous six meetings, all in the group stage.

Lyon made the semi-finals for the first time with a little luck over French rivals Girondins Bordeaux, but have big bragging rights from a round of 16 knockout of Real Madrid – in whose stadium the May 22 final will be played.

Munich, considered an outsider, simply refused to die again in the competition. They won a do-or-die group stage game 4-1 at Juventus Turin, fought twice from the brink of elimination in the round of 16 against Fiorentina before pulling off an even more amazing survival act at Old Trafford.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson may have fumed about “typical Germans” who in his opinion forced the red card for Rafael, but was rather his team’s inability to conserve a lead in both legs.

“As Sir Alex Ferguson spluttered and spewed, though, the unpalatable truth was one the Scot did not want to accept – that United were knocked out by themselves as much as the Bavarian

ham-actors,” said the Daily Mirror.

Over in Germany, the Bild daily delighted in “what a fight, what a comeback” while Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge took a deep bow before the team.

“You have to take your hat off to the desire, energy and passion they9re showing at the present time,” he said.