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The current Champions League holders drew a blank on Italian soil, as both teams failed to break down stubborn defenses in Milan. Barcelona will hold a slight advantage with the second leg at the Nou Camp, but on a night with few chances, Milan will be disappointed it didn’t make it count.
It was a frantic start. Barcelona looked half asleep, as it gifted the ball to Milan in the opening minutes, culminating in a great chance for Boateng, and an even better chance for Robinho, who volleyed over from no more than six yards. But Lionel Messi was beginning to get into his stride, testing Abbiati from the edge of the box and inter-linking nicely with his teammates.
Last year’s winners had a big appeal for a penalty turned down, when Alexis Sanchez was brought down by Abbiati after a neatly worked free-kick, but the referee waved the shouts away. Barcelona was getting on top though, and had a goal disallowed for offside minutes later, when Messi went too early to meet a Dani Alves cross.
Milan wasn’t taking the pressure lying down though, and almost went ahead, as the ex-Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic ran through on goal but was denied by Victor Valdes. It was a typically fraught encounter between two attack-minded teams, but the away side definitely had the upper hand, as Milan failed to keep possession regularly enough to pose a threat.
The game was evenly poised as half-time approached, the world champions Barcelona threatened with no end product, whilst Milan had the odd opportunity on the counter-attack, but couldn’t find a route to goal.
The second half started much like the first had ended: Barcelona was doing most of the pressing, but Milan had to make a change when Robinho fell awkwardly and was replaced by El Shaarawy. Guardiola was beginning to grow frustrated by the lack of chances being created, and took Andres Iniesta off for youngster Cristian Tello, in hopes of getting a crucial away goal.
Urby Emanuelson was also thrown into the action with twenty minutes to go, and instead of the game becoming stretched, defenses tightened, as Milan looked even more likely to sit back and soak up the pressure, frustrating Barcelona further, as the 2011 winners failed to find a way through the stubborn defense.
As the clock ticked down, so did the chances of either team grabbing a crucial lead to take back to Spain. Messi came closest, forcing a good save from Abbiati, and Tello was denied by a last ditch block from Ambrosini, with the goal gaping. There were no more clear-cut chances, and the referee brought time on an anti-climactic second half, as both teams prepare to do it all again in Barcelona next week.