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UEFA Champions League nears its grand finale

By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor

If it were not a World Cup year in 2010, it would be one of the biggest events in all of sports as the UEFA (Union of European Football Association) Champions League nears its exciting finale in Madrid, Spain. 

Earlier in the week, the final four teams in soccer's most prestigious club competition played the second legs of their semi final clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Tuesday's match up saw the French Ligue One champions Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) take on German Bundesliga legends Bayern Munich. Arjen Robben's goal in the first leg gave Bayern the slim 1-0 lead entering the 2nd leg at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, France.

Bayern came out flying and looked like the same team that dominated Lyon the week before as striker Ivica OliÄc scored with 26 minutes gone. Lyon's chances did not come easily and when they did appear, "Les Gones" were not able to take advantage.

Things got even more difficult for Lyon when their captain and top defender, Cris, was sent off with a red card in the 59th minute. After being booked with a yellow card for a rash challenge, Cris sarcastically applauded the referee's decision, and the Bayern fans began to applaud as the referee showed the Brazilian a second yellow card for the sarcasm.

With ten men, it would take a miracle for the Ligue 1 Champions to come back, and OliÄc made sure there would be no such miracles. The Croatian buried his second goal of the game eight minutes after Cris' early exit, but OliÄc wasn't done. Eleven minutes after his second goal, he got his hat trick with a marvelous header giving Bayern the 3-0 win on the day, the 4-0 win on aggregates, and a trip to Madrid as they awaited the winners of the second semi final. 

The second semi final pitted two of the biggest clubs in the world as defending European Champions Barcelona take on Italian giants Inter Milan. After the surprising 3-1 win, Inter was looking to finish off Spain's La Liga champions to book their place in the final for the first time since 1972. It would not be easy though. Barcelona is considered far and away as one of the best teams in the world with the greatest player in world in Lionel Messi. 

Things got even more difficult when Inter went a man down when defender Thiago Motta received his second yellow card of the match in the 28th minute. 

Playing 62 minutes with ten men is no simple task, especially against the best team in the world, but the Nerazzurri's defense stayed strong, only allowing a superb goal from Gerard Piqué to breach the back lines in the 84th minute.  The final whistle blew and after surviving an onslaught of Barcelona attacks; Inter Milan punched their tickets to the final on May 22.


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