Reuters Soccer Blog
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from Left field:
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?
Unlike his mentor Jose Mourinho, Andre Villas Boas does not have a Champions League title on his resume as he moves to Chelsea but he ticks every other box on the London club’s wishlist.
The 33-year-old’s short career — which spans just 20 months as head coach — and lack of Champions League experience means he is a gamble for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, for whom clinching Europe’s top club trophy seems to have become an obsession.
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.
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.
European competition is almost over for another season after Braga and Porto booked their places in the Europa League final in Dublin.
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.
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.
Breathe in. Breathe out. The Champions League is over for this week after a tense two days of last 16 drama. And now for Europa League action on Thursday with yet more top sides in action.
First of all however let’s dissect the Champions League from Wednesday where underdogs Tottenham Hotspur and Schalke 04 progressed past their more fancied rivals, AC Milan and Valencia respectively.
Well the fight for fourth spot in the Premier League looks like being one of the most intriguing battles in Europe as we near the latter stages of the season. Tottenham and Aston Villa won but Manchester City drew 0-0 with Liverpool in a drab game to leave it all as close as an Olympic downhill.
The Bundesliga and La Liga get more exciting thanks to Bayer Leverkusen and Cristiano Ronaldo while Inter’s lead being cut to five points has made Serie A less clear cut.