AC Milan’s Defense Blunts Barcelona in 2-0 Champions League Win

AC Milan’s defensive effort carried the Italian team to a surprise 2-0 victory against Barcelona in their Champions League soccer round-of-16 opener.

Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari scored in the second half at the San Siro stadium in Milan last night as the home team ended a seven-match winless run against Barcelona in European soccer’s elite club competition.

Barcelona, which leads Spain’s La Liga by 12 points and entered the match as the bookmakers’ favorite to win its fourth Champions League title in eight seasons, was limited to two shots on target even though it had two-thirds of the possession.

“We played as we had to,” Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini said on the website of tournament organizer UEFA. “Maybe Barcelona played more football than us, but we didn’t give them the space to strike. This victory is a real boost for us.”

Also last night, Jermaine Jones scored just before halftime to give Schalke a 1-1 draw at Galatasaray, which went ahead through Burak Yilmaz’s seventh goal of the competition. Schalke and Barcelona host the return matches March 12, with the winners of the two-game series advancing to the quarterfinals.

“We produced a focused performance,” Schalke midfielder Julian Draxler, whose team had lost five of its past eight matches, said on UEFA’s website. “We have experienced some problems in the past few weeks, but with today’s performance we can go into the return leg with some confidence.”

The round of 16 resumes March 5 with Manchester United and Real Madrid tied 1-1 and Dortmund tied 2-2 with Shakhtar Donetsk. Juventus leads Celtic 3-0, Paris Saint-Germain has a 2-1 advantage against Valencia, Porto leads Malaga 1-0, and Bayern Munich is 3-1 up on Arsenal in the other matchups, which will be played March 6 and 13.

Five Shots

The first half in Milan produced a combined five shot attempts, with Barcelona putting its only two on target. Milan’s best chance came when Stephan El Shaaraway broke down the left only to be let down by a heavy touch with Carles Puyol clearing the ball.

Seven-time European champion Milan took the lead 12 minutes into the second half as Riccardo Montolivo’s long shot hit a Barcelona player and then appeared to strike Cristian Zapata’s arm at the edge of the area. The ball fell to Boateng, who turned and shot past Victor Valdes as Barcelona players appealed for a handball.

Andres Iniesta shot wide for Barcelona in the 76th minute before fellow midfielder Xavi Hernandez drove a free kick over the crossbar moments later.

Milan clinched the victory with nine minutes left as substitute M’Baye Niang passed in the area to El Shaaraway, who teed up the onrushing Muntari to hit a volley past Valdes.

No Excuses

“It’s a really bad result,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said on UEFA’s website. “We played badly and can’t make excuses. When they scored the first we lost control.”

The defeat was Barcelona’s first by more than one goal in the Champions League since losing 3-1 to Inter Milan at the San Siro in the 2010 semifinals, according to Infostrada Sports.

“When you’re not on your game this happens,” Iniesta said. “It is a poor result. It will be a different story at our stadium. From the very first minute at the Camp Nou we’ll be going for it.”

Galatasaray took a 12th-minute lead in Turkey as Selcuk Inan passed to Yilmaz, who flicked the ball over a defender and fired a shot into the roof of the net to tie Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo with a competition-leading seven goals.

Galatasaray’s Hamit Altintop hit the crossbar off the rebound after Didier Drogba’s shot was saved by Timo Hildebrand in the 18th minute.

Schalke then tied the score on the stroke of halftime when Jefferson Farfan ran onto a pass from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar down the right side and crossed for Jones to shoot past Fernando Muslera from inside the area.

“The formula for victory is very simple, we need to score and win,” Galatasaray midfielder Nordin Amrabat said of the second match. “It won’t be an easy task.”

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