Champions’ League Final Sixteen.
The Champions’ League is without doubt the biggest soccer club competition in the world. Over the last couple of days the final group stages were played out and the final sixteen were decided.
All the favourites got through to The Champion’s League final sixteen. Champions Inter, although they qualified second will have a tough round coming up, which could include Barcelona or Real Madrid. Certanly, Champions Inter really do not seem the same under Rafa Benito – after the departure of Jose Mourinho to Real Madrid.
The two big Spanish clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the hot favourites, with budgets that are many times those of the other clubs. They also have, reputedly, the two best players in the world on either side, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leonel Messi. Barcelona must be slightly ahead on the odds, though, after their 5-0 walloping of Real Madrid at the Nou Camp last week in La liga.
Manchester United are there and one of the seeds, of course. After disappointing final stages over the last couple of years, Alex Ferguson will want a good go at this – considering the final is at Wembley this year.
Meanwhile, Chelsea qualified the previous game, however it is difficult to predict their chances having lost their first group game yesterday, at home – and their very poor league form of late. Arsenal, surprisingly, struggled to reach second and at one stage were mathematically out when Partizan drew level at the Emirates last night. However Theo Walcott came on and saved the day, securing Arsenal’s place in the final 16 but as runner’s up – meaning that they could face any of the favourites (except one of the other English clubs).
Tottenham qualified top of their group (the same group as Champions Inter) with full marks to Harry Rednapp. This is the first time Spurs has qualified for the final 16 and ensured that all 4 English clubs were in the final 16 – a merit in itself.
My beloved Valencia also qualified and will never be an easy team to beat. They could draw Spurs, Chelsea or Bayern Munich, amongst others.
The final sixteen go in to a direct knock-out competition; final sixteen knock-out, quarter-finals, semis and final – at Wembley in May.
However, for the next round the teams who were first in their group get drawn against the teams that were second – with the ones that qualified first also having the theoretical advantage of playing the return leg at home. That said, no teams can be drawn against teams of their home competition (i.e. Man United cannot draw Arsenal any more than Barcelona or Real Madrid can draw Valencia). Furthermore, you cannot be drawn against the team that was in your group in the group stages!
So, who really are the favourites?
The bookies for The Champion’s League must have Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the odds. However, I also think (contrary to what many managers assure me!) that there is a massive amount of luck from here on in. If you have a particularly good or bad night then your destiny is made (for better or worse).
Look at Manchester United last year. They were 3-0 up and cruising against Bayern Munich and slaughtering them – with United playing some brilliant football. However, Manchester United had Rafael sent off right at the start of the second half, Alex Ferguson lost the plot a bit and Bayern Munich came back with a 3-2 to win on away goals. Bayern then ended up in the final!
So, it is possibly wise to take each game as it comes, rather than trying to predict the final result of the competition.
Certainly, I think the performance of some teams will depend, quite simply, upon the way they interact with individual teams with, literally, the ‘luck of the draw’ all important. For example, I think that Arsenal could do very well against Real Madrid and Manchester United could be very successful against Barcelona.
Of course, until next year, when the competition gets under way again, we will simply not know – and that’s the really exciting thing!
Anyway, next Friday is The Champions’ League Final Sixteen draw – so there will be plenty of fingers crossed for the ‘luck of the draw’…