Welcome to my series, "Barça Champions League Memories." Every time FC Barcelona has a UEFA Champions League knockout stage match upcoming, I will look back a CL memory from the past.
Today, we will look back at the 2006 CL semis, as Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona took on a tough AC Milan side led by Carlo Ancelotti.
The Time: 2005-06 season
Barcelona had a stellar season in 2005-06, as El Blaugrana won its second consecutive La Liga title, winning the league by a 12-point advantage over Real Madrid. Barça also won the Spanish Super Cup over Espanyol.
Barcelona cruised through the group stage of the UEFA Champions league, winning Group C by nearly ten points. In the round-of-16, Barça disposed of Chelsea, 3-2 on aggregate. In the quarterfinals, FCB eliminated Benfica with a 2-0 aggregate score thanks to goals from Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho in the second leg at the Camp Nou.
Up next was AC Milan in the semifinals. It wasn't going to be easy, as Milan were runners-up the year before in one of the greatest CL Finals of all time against Liverpool. Andriy Shevchenko and Kaká led the way on attack for Milan, who were looking to win their seventh CL title in the club's history.
Some people say the away leg of any tie is the most important for a team, and for Barcelona, grabbing a goal at the San Siro was a must.
Alberto Gilardino nearly gave the home side the lead within 20 minutes, but his shot hit the post. Clarence Seedorf found Shevchenko for a header later on, but Victor Valdes was there to make the stop. Milan started off great, but had no goal to show for it.
Barcelona's first half was rather quiet, as they did not have many goal-scoring opportunities in the first half.
The second half saw Milan come close in the 51st minute. A lovely Shevchenko chip to Kaká found the Brazilian at point-blank range of Valdes. Kaká's centering pass to Gilardino looked like it would be a tap-in goal, but Alberto's shot went wide left of the post.
The Moment: Giuly scores in the San Siro
Barcelona improved as the game moved along. In the 57th minute, Barcelona found the back of net.
Ronaldinho battled Gennaro Gattuso throughout the night, and on Barça's goal-scoring play, it continued. Dinho was able to escape a Gattuso challenge and lob the ball into the box for Ludovic Giuly. The Frenchman stormed past both center backs Alessandro Nesta and Kakhaber Kaladze, timed his kick perfectly, and with his left foot slammed the ball past a helpless Dida for the golazo. A perfect pass by Dinho to Giuly for the perfect goal.
Dinho nearly had a golazo of his own in the 64th minute, but his low shot from just on the box line crossed passed Dida, hit the far post, roll across the goal line and spin out for a goal kick. Unreal. A then 21-year-old Andres Iniesta had a good shot at goal just two minutes later, but his shot was easily saved by Dida.
Milan's best chance to equalize came in the 81st minute. Barcelona fell asleep and lost Massimo Ambrosini near the top of the box. Kaká rolled a soft through ball to the midfielder who was wide-open to possibly get the equalizer. But either Ambrosini got nervous, anxious or simply did not realize he wasn't marked, as he rushed the shot and sent the ball far left and out for a goal kick. What a blown chance.
The match ended 1-0 and Barcelona got the all-important away goal.
Barcelona was brilliant defensively, as the Catalans once again shut down the Milan offense. The Catalans' pressing and ball possession kept Milan at bay for most of the game. The Rossoneri did have opportunities at goal, as Kaká nearly scored in the opening minute of the game, but his long shot raced by Valdes and out of play. Shevchenko had a shot at goal in the 23rd minute, but his shot hit the side netting. Dida was the hero for Milan in the game, as his saves helped keep Milan in the tie, in particular, his saves on Eto'o's close shots at goal in the first half.
The most controversial moment of the second leg and the entire semifinal came in the 69th minute. Shevchenko seemed to have tied things up on aggregate when he leaped over Carles Puyol, who fell down, and the Ukrainian headed in the ball past Valdes. But German referee Markus Merk called a foul on the play against Shevchenko.
The replay clearly showed that there was no foul by Shevchenko on Puyol, who looked like he fell down on his own. Ancelotti and the Milan bench were furious as the Rossoneri's chances faded after that.
Barcelona held on for the 0-0 draw (1-0 agg.) and moved on to the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final where they would defeat Arsenal 2-1 for the Catalans' third European title in their history.
From 2002-07, AC Milan was a dominant team in Europe, winning two Champions League titles (2002-03, 2006-07) within a five-year span and nearly winning a third in 2004-05.
For Barcelona to have kept Milan scoreless through two legs in the 2006 semis was and still is seen as quite an accomplishment. Barcelona was the only team to keep Milan scoreless through two legs in the Champions League during the '02-'07 Rossoneri era.
The 2006 Champions League title is the crown jewel of the Ronaldinho/Rijkaard FC Barcelona era of 2003-08. But let's not forget the hard, scrappy, intense job Barça did in the 2006 Champions League semifinal to get to that magical rainy night in Paris.
Take a look at the highlights of the first leg. Giuly's goal is a thing of beauty.
Here's a look at Shevchenko's disallowed goal in the second leg.
What are your memories of the 2006 CL semifinal between Barcelona and Milan? Let us know in the comments section.