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from Left field:

And Porto will play…..Europa League draw provides some stardust

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There was the usual hushed silence and then sudden intake of breath heard in Nyon on Friday, though not for the Champions League Round of 16 draw but the first two ties of the Europa League Round of 32.

Holders Porto will play mega-rich Manchester City, they were the first two names out of the little plastic balls when UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was finally able to open the second after Davor Suker had tried and failed, and Ajax Amsterdam will take on Manchester United.

So what about the Champions League draw? Well, here it is in full:

Olympique Lyon v APOEL Nicosia

Napoli v Chelsea

AC Milan v Arsenal

Basel v Bayern Munich

Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona

CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid

Zenit St Petersburg v Benfica

Olympique Marseille v Inter Milan

Some first legs will be played on Valentine’s Day, so gentlemen start making your excuses. Mind you, AC Milan v Arsenal, Napoli v Chelsea, Olympique Marseille v Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona aside, the above matches are by no means the most mouthwatering.

What do you make of the two draws? And do you think Manchester’s two powerhouses will field strong teams come February next year when they begin their Europa League quests?

Soccer Break Thursday – Power to Portugal

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It was no classic but Porto cemented themselves as one of Europe’s top sides on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory over compatriots Braga in the Europa League final in Dublin, surely the start of better days for the Portuguese game.

Key to this is that Porto’s coach Andre Villas-Boas and figurehead striker Radamel Falcao have agreed to stay at the club, a nice touch in the fast-paced football world where players and coaches come and go all too often.

Soccer Break Wednesday – Will you watch the Europa League final?

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Will you be watching the Europa League final later on Wednesday? Do you even know who is in the final? Does it annoy you that such a tough competition gets undervalued because of the unstoppable rise in popularity of the Champions League?

Anyway, enough questions. Venue: Dublin. Teams: Porto and Braga, two very contrasting Portuguese clubs. This could be one hell of a game, so watch it.

Soccer Break Friday – titles at stake

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The week is ending but the drama is just cranking up. Yes, the weekend is almost upon us, and that means loads more football action around Europe where there is still plenty at stake.

European competition is almost over for another season after Braga and Porto booked their places in the Europa League final in Dublin.

Soccer Break Thursday – United roll on

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Manchester United just keep on winning despite a sluggish season by their usually high standards and will now face Barcelona in the Champions League final on May 28.

Predictions? Hard to see even a full strength United keeping Messi and co at bay, especially as Barca coach Pep Guardiola will be seeking to continue his love affair with Wembley.

Soccer Break Friday

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SOCCER-EUROPA/How can the upcoming domestic matches beat this week’s European action for goals? 19 were scored in Thursday’s four Europa League quarter-finals, with a further 18 coming in the four Champions League last eight ties on Tuesday and Wednesday.

What the top leagues around Europe do have however is drama, with most leagues set to go down to the wire, whereas only two out of eight of next week’s quarter-final second legs are in the balance.

Soccer Break Thursday – Champions League recap

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Where to start after four brilliant Champions League quarter-finals, even if the intrigue for next week’s second legs has all but gone from three of the ties with Barcelona leading Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1, Real Madrid 4-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur and Schalke 04 in total charge against holders Inter Milan after the 5-2 triumph at the San Siro.

However, the appetite has most certainly been whet for the very probable ‘Clasico’ semi-final between Real and Barcelona, a meeting of the world’s two best players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. April 26 or 27 and May 3 or 4. Do not miss these dates. Not that Spain’s two leading clubs are thinking that far ahead.

Soccer Break Friday – Champions League draw special

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SOCCER-EUROPA/Well well well. Now the Champions League really is wide open..

So here’s that quarter-final draw again:

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea v Manchester United

Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk

Inter Milan v Schalke 04

As Gary Lineker put it, there will be an English team in the semi-finals, but could Tottenham make it two sides? Real are certainly not invincible.

Now, before taking a look at all the domestic leagues over the weekend, a recap of Thursday’s highlights from the Europa League. Quite a night of upsets.

Soccer Break Thursday

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/So Real Madrid finally broke their last 16 jinx and made the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2004 with a solid home performance against Olympique Lyon. Can’t imagine anyone left in the draw would like to face Jose Mourinho’s men when the last eight and semi-final draws are announced on Friday.

Which team would you want? Managerless Schalke 04? Real are divided on that given they would then face former striker Raul. Or Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk? Tottenham Hotspur would appear to be another one of the weaker teams left but at this stage of the competition any side is a threat.

Soccer Break Tuesday

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/CUPThe pain for Arsenal fans just rolls on it would seem, as a trip to my office’s kitchen confirmed on Monday when I heard two voices grumbling about “Van Persie” and “not enough shots”.

The North London club’s woes of the last two weeks or so have been much publicised, but perhaps at last there is some news to cheer Gunners fans up in the return of former keeper Jens Lehmann? Who would you prefer in goal? Lehmann, or Arsenal’s only currently available goalie Manuel Almunia, in good form in the last two matches against Barcelona and Manchester United?

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