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Arsenal rallies for 2-2 tie with Barcelona in first leg of Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona never should have let Cesc Fabregas get away. Soccer’s reigning world champion has known that for some time and knows it even better now.

Fabregas, nurtured in the Barcelona youth system before being lured away by the bright lights of London, scored on a late penalty kick Wednesday to earn Arsenal a 2-2 tie in an enthralling European Champions League game at Emirates Stadium.

Barcelona led, 2-0, on two goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half by striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Theo Walcott cut Arsenal’s deficit in half and Fabregas tied it after he was fouled by defender Carles Puyol.

The 85th-minute goal came at a possibly hefty price, however. Fabregas said he thought he might have broken a bone in his leg when he was brought down by Puyol, his teammate on Spain’s national team, which is one of the favorites to win the World Cup.

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“I fear the worst, which is that I have broken something,” Fabregas said. “When I took the penalty, I was quite strong, but after when I went to get the ball I could not walk any more. It is the fibula.”

If Fabregas is sidelined for the rest of the season, it would be a severe blow to Arsenal’s English Premier League and Champions League prospects, not to mention Spain’s World Cup hopes.

In the day’s other Champions League quarterfinal first leg, Inter Milan scored the narrowest of victories over CSKA Moscow, winning, 1-0, in Italy on a goal by Diego Milito.

As interesting as that game was, it was the match in London that provided the spectacle.

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At center stage for the first 45 minutes was another Spaniard, Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who produced a series of excellent saves to keep Barcelona off the scoreboard in the first half.

Almunia stopped shots by Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, Ibrahimovic and Xavi as Arsenal’s rear guard battled to keep Barcelona at bay.

In the first minute of the second half, however, Ibrahimovic took a long pass from Gerard Pique and, with Almunia coming out of his net to challenge, chipped the ball over the goalie and into the net.

Thirteen minutes later, Barcelona made it 2-0 when Ibrahimovic hammered in a second goal off a pass from Xavi. It appeared that the lights were growing dim in London.

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But Walcott, still trying to make England’s World Cup squad as a possible replacement for injured David Beckham, scored to make it 2-1, and when Puyol took Fabregas down, earning a red card for his foul, Fabregas calmly slotted in the resulting penalty kick.

Puyol will miss the return leg game in Barcelona on Tuesday, but so will Fabregas, not just because of his injury but because he received a yellow card in the first half.

The two away goals will boost Barcelona’s chances of making it through to the Champions League semifinals, but as Wednesday’s comeback by Arsenal proved, the series has by no means been secured.

Barcelona Coach Pep Guardiola said exactly that.

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“We’re happy with the result — we scored twice away from home,” he said, “but what we will take from this game is that we must be more attentive because if we don’t put in a good performance at the Camp Nou, we’ll be out.”

Arsenal Coach Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, was as troubled by his team’s inability to hold onto the ball.

“The way we gave the ball away today is beyond understanding,” Wenger said.

In Milan, Inter Coach Jose Mourinho was more or less satisfied with his team’s victory on Milito’s 65th-minute goal.

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“We have a slight advantage,” Mourinho said, “but we face a hard task in Moscow next week.”

Jones reported from Los Angeles

grahame.jones@latimes.com


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