Barcelona and Manchester United enhance chances to make European Champions League semifinals

Barcelona, playing the type of stylish soccer that has made it a fan favorite worldwide, swept past Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine, 5-1, on Tuesday to virtually guarantee its place in the semifinals of the European Champions League.

Manchester United also made its passage to the semifinals considerably less complicated by defeating Chelsea, 1-0, in London on a well-taken goal by Wayne Rooney that was created by superlative passes from Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.

With Real Madrid and Schalke '04 of Germany also having won by healthy margins Tuesday, it appears that the semifinals will feature Manchester United against Schalke and Barcelona against Real Madrid.

But this has been a strange year in the Champions League and another odd twist or two in the tale is not beyond the bounds of possibility when the quarterfinal second-leg matches are played next week.

For the moment, though, it was Manchester United's first victory at Chelsea in nine years and Barcelona's continuing brilliance that held center stage Wednesday night.

Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United team came to Stamford Bridge as English Premier League champion-in-waiting, having built a seven-point lead over its nearest rival, Arsenal, with seven games to play.

Manchester United also has reached the semifinals of the English F.A. Cup, in which rival Manchester City awaits, and is seeking a trio of trophies, with the Champions League obviously the main prize.

Rooney kept it well on course for that feat when he redirected Giggs' perfect pass in off the foot of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech's right post in the 24th minute.

Carrick had swung the ball out to Giggs on left wing and the veteran Welsh international — 37 but playing like a 27-year-old — rounded Portuguese defender Jose Bosingwa and cut a pass back to Rooney as Chelsea captain John Terry floundered about looking for the ball.

The Blues managed to create several good scoring chances but either squandered them — glaring misses by Fernando Torres and Ramires being prime examples — or saw Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar intervene.

United also had a bit of luck when Frank Lampard's close-range effort was cleared off the line by defender Patrice Evra.

With the Champions League final set to be played in London on May 28, one odd thing about the first-leg quarterfinal games, which produced 18 goals, was that it was the two London clubs left in the competition — Tottenham Hotspur, beaten, 4-0, by Real Madrid, and Chelsea — who were the only teams not to score.

Chelsea had reason to feel hard done by, however, after Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco failed to award it a penalty kick in injury time when Evra took down Ramires inside the box.

Replays suggested that a penalty kick was certainly justified, as Chelsea's Italian coach, Carlo Ancelotti, said in no uncertain terms.

"Everyone knows it was clear. The problem is, I know it's sometimes not easy to give the penalty in the last minute and you need to have personality, courage and character. Not always do referees have these kind of skills," he said.

"I'm disappointed, but this is the result. Not just the referee but the assistant was in the right position to decide that was a penalty. I said to the referee that it was a penalty. … He said nothing. No answer."

Said Ferguson: "Yeah, someone said it could have been a penalty. It was the first penalty decision we've had [go our way] in seven years, so we're due one. But I don't feel guilty about that at all."

The blown call underlines the failure of UEFA's experiment to increase the officiating crew from three to five by adding assistant referees on either end line. They have yet to make a meaningful contribution to any match.

There was no refereeing controversy in Spain, meanwhile. Another sellout crowd at the Camp Nou had hardly settled before Barcelona took the lead.

Andres Iniesta, the creative player who scored Spain's World Cup-winning goal in South Africa last summer, scored it a mere 1 minute 38 seconds into the match.

There were further goals by Dani Alves and Gerard Pique as Barcelona built a 3-0 lead.

Shakhtar offered itself a brief glimmer of hope at the hour mark when a free kick found the back of the Barcelona net off the knee of Yaroslav Ratkitskiy to make it 3-1, but Barcelona responded inside 57 seconds as Seydou Keita scored and Xavi wrapped things up with a fifth goal near the end.

"We weren't expecting this," said Shakhtar Coach Mircea Lucescu. "They [Barcelona's players] were clinical … I think the tie is already decided and they are going through."

Not so, said Barcelona Coach Josep "Pep" Guardiola.

"Don't believe [Lucescu] when he says the tie is over," he said. "I'm telling you, this isn't finished yet."

Next week it will be.

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