CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Barcelona in cruise control as they qualify for semis

Barcelona have set themselves up for a potential Champions League semi-final clash with La Liga rivals Real Madrid.

The Catalan club eased through to the final four with a 6-1 aggregate win over Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, culminating in tonight’s 1-0 victory at Donbass Arena, and are extremely likely to meet Real in the next round if Jose Mourinho's men can successfully navigate Tottenham in London tomorrow night.

Lionel Messi was again the man for Barca, scoring the only goal of the encounter in the 43rd minute, with a customary finish from a neat piece of play which involved Dani Alves down the right and ended in the dynamic 23-year old becoming the competition’s leading scorer, overtaking Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez and Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o with his ninth.

Pep Guardiola and his men now find themselves in the penultimate round of Europe’s premier club competition for the fourth year in a row and are in a very strong position to make it a second Champions League title in their last three attempts with the likes of Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Bojan Krkic and Javier Mascherano to quite possibly return to the squad.

Shakhtar Donetsk: 0
Barcelona: 1 (Lionel Messi 43’)
*Barcelona win 6-1 on aggregate
Venue: Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Crowd: 48,000
Referee: Florian Meyer
Yellow cards: SHA - Henrik Mkhitaryan 56’, Mykola Ischenko 61’
BAR - Gabriel Milito 71’

Barcelona’s Victor Valdes was called on to make a sharp save in the 9th minute when Jadson played in Douglas Costa but the Brazilian’s left-footed shot from close range was well kept out by the Spanish custodian after a fairly slow beginning from both sides.

Shakhtar were making their intentions clear by going on the attack as often as possible but this style had the capability of leaving them vulnerable with the likes of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Ibrahim Afellay waiting to counter at every opportunity.

Xavi tried his luck from long range in the 22nd minute as Barca attempted to get themselves back into the contest after the Ukrainians held possession for lengthy spells. This occurred just moments before Shakhtar again went on the attack with Vasili Kobin playing a ball in from the right for Jadson but his shot was not fierce enough to trouble a well-positioned Valdes.

Messi tested home keeper Andriy Pyatov in the 28th minute with a well-struck shot from outside the area as the visitors started to gather a bit more momentum three minutes before the same duo were involved with the Ukraine gloveman managing to hold onto an adventurous chip from the Argentine ace.

Pep Guardiola’s men really picked up their game as the half progressed after being unusually dominated from a possession point of view earlier on and again went close when Ifellay curled a shot goalward which Pyatov juggled but was able to keep out.

GOAL However, two minutes before the break, Barcelona fully kicked into gear when right-back Dani Alves made a neat run down the flank before playing in Messi who used some fancy footwork to get past two defenders before slotting home for his ninth goal in 10 matches for the competition and 48th for the season.

Jadons came close down other end with a brilliant free-kick which looped up over the wall and was looking to fall in under the bar but Valdes was equal to the task in the last piece of play of the opening 45 minutes.

The early stages provided us with a clearer view of how Barcelona normally play with clean passing, swift movement and overall control of the game although they did almost lapse to allow Shakhtar in with a chance in about the 48th minute through Willian.

The Ukrainians needed answers as the contest was set to get away with them with the Catalan giants taking over and moving into cruise control. Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu had to make changes and he did so just before the hour-mark with former Arsenal striker Eduardo replacing Douglas Costa in a bid to give the side more scoring power.

The 59th minute saw Pyatov make a fine diving save from an Ifellay shot after a dazzling run from Messi before Villa missed the target from the centre of the area after Ifellay turned provider for him.

As the 70-minute approached and the minutes ticked over, the nature of the contest died right down as the urgency exited the Shakhtar players until Henrik Mkhitaryan found space in the area before turning and shooting on goal only to produce another world class save from Valdes who was having a very good night with the gloves.

The Blaugrana knew they were through as Shakhtar attempted in vain to push forward but the players had finally accepted their fate and bowed to the Barcelona side who proved much too good over the course of two legs, especially at the Nou Camp last week.

Starting Line-Ups

Shakhtar
Andriy Pyatov (gk) – Yaroslav Rakitsiy, Mykola Ischenko, Vasili Kobin, Viacheslav Shevchuk – Tomas Hubschman (Fernandinho 75’), Henrik Mkhitaryan, Willian, Douglas Costa (Eduardo 58’) – Luiz Adriano (Moreno 66’), Jadson

Subs - Rustam Khudzhamov (gk), Eduardo (58’), Marcelo Moreno (66’), Fernandinho (75’), Olexiy Gay, Alex Teixeira, Sergey Krivstov

Barcelona
Victor Valdes (gk) – Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique (Milito 70’), AdrianoJavier Mascherano, Seydou Keita, Xavi Hernandez (Pedro 66’) – Ibrahim Afellay, Lionel Messi, David Villa (Jeffren 75’)

Subs - Jose Manuel Pinto (gk), Pedro Rodriguez (66’), Gabriel Milito (70’), Jeffren Suarez (75’), Maxwell, Thiago Alcantara, Andreu Fontas

 
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