Thought the Champions League was a European animal? Well, it is, but there’s one across the water too. Today’s three to watch come from the UEFA species, and its lesser-spotted CONCACAF cousin.
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Chelsea vs Benfica, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
With a 1-0 lead, an away goal and some so-so form under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea are obviously favourites. But they’re up against two-time European Champions Benfica, who’ve lost just once away from home in the Portuguese league this season. A team containing Aimar, Gaitán and Cardozo that needs to pull off a win against the odds should, generally, do just that. But this is the quarter-final of the Big Cup, and Stamford Bridge is a tough place to go blah-blah-blah. For the neutral or semi-neutral, the best thing that could happen to this match is for big Cardozo to hit a Crouch-style screamer in the opening five minutes. That would give us a game that might make us look up from our Game of Thrones DVD boxset, as it would mean that Benfica were coming, my lord.
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Real Madrid vs APOEL Nicosia, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
APOEL’s run to the quarter-finals will probably never be matched by another Cypriot team or by a side from a similar-sized nation. No-one’s holding their breath for Maltese champions Valletta or Luxembourg title-holders Dudelange to take next year’s Champions League by storm. So, Brazilian mercenaries or not, it’s hats off to the Lyon-tamers (see what we did there?), but with the news coming in that Real plan on fielding a reasonably strong team, it’s also time to say ‘Kalinihta’ (‘good night’; our thanks go to the delightfully unreliable Google Translate) to our islander friends.
3) CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, second leg: Santos Laguna vs Toronto, 03.00 CET/20.00 EST
Toronto surprised many self-appointed experts (excuse us while we look the other way) by holding Santos Laguna to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at BMO Field. The Canadians have been making confident noises, but Seattle did that too, and they got gubbed 6-1 in Torreon in the previous round. The Mexicans are top of the league and unbeaten this year. Toronto are not. But, as Jimmy Greaves was fond of mumbling, it really is a funny ol’ game. If TFC somehow reach the final, it would probably rank as their biggest-ever achievement, akin to a team from, say, Cyprus reaching the last eight of the competition’s European equivalent. Which would just never happ…oh.
With the kick-offs to today’s three games just a hop and a skip away, we’ll limit this preview to one adverb and one adjective. Lazily sparse, in other words.
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: APOEL Nicosia vs Real Madrid, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: Benfica vs Chelsea, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
3) English FA Cup: Tottenham v Bolton, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
Thought all the best football today had already been and gone? Think again. Here’s an appetising Americas assortment that’ll get your pulses racing faster than that of a Kazakh athlete forced to listen to Borat’s ‘alternative’ anthem at a recent medal ceremony.
1) Argentinian Primera A (Clausura): Racing Club vs Unión, 00.30 CET/18.30 EST
Now managed by David Beckham nemesis Diego Simeone, Racing are, well, racing to end an eleven year wait without a league title, a bloody eternity for fans of a club considered to be part of an admittedly rather arbitrary ‘big five’ in Argentina. Their newly promoted opponents have not done too shabbily so far back amongst the big boys, and with both sides having strengthened their defence, it promises to be a tight one.
2) Mexican 1a División: Santos Laguna vs Querétaro, 03.00 CET/21.00 EST
In Mexico, it’s second against 18th tonight, also known as last. Querétaro have won once in eleven matches, while Santos Laguna recently put six goals past a previously-thought-to-be-pretty-damn-good Seattle side in the CONCACAF Champions League. Expect a few goals at the Estadio Corona, and expect them for just one team.
3) MLS: Vancouver vs DC United, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
The Canadians won their first two games of the season, including a first-ever away victory as an MLS club last week. In the meantime, DC United were losing their opening two fixtures. While it all points to a home win, the Whitecaps have a few pesky injuries, and DC United have…well, it might be clutching at straws, but they might well have more Canadians on the field than their hosts, if Dejan Jakovic can shake off a groin strain and 2011 league MVP Dwayne de Rosario plays, as he is expected to do. De Rosario constitutes DC’s best chance of taking something from the game, and he would no doubt relish the chance to do it in front of his countrymen, continuing his mission to become the most famous Canadian since, um, John Candy.
Fridays generally offer slim pickings for those looking for some live footy action, and today’s fixture list does have a certain Old Mother Hubbard look to it. Still, football’s a bit like sex, or pizza; even when it’s bad, it’s really, really good:
1) Bundesliga: Wolfsburg vs Hamburg, 20.30 CET/15.30 EST
Hamburg have had a bad season, by their high standards. Currently scrabbling about just above the drop zone, the former European champions really need to take something from their tricky trip to Wolfsburg, following a run of five games without a win. Hamburg have never been relegated from the top flight, but should they get bitten on the bum by the Wolves tonight, the yawning abyss will seem a wee bit too close for comfort.
2) Portuguese Primeira Liga: Olhanense vs Benfica, 21.45 CET/16.45 EST
It’s been a pretty divine couple of weeks for Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side, what with them making it into the Big Cup quarter-finals, being chosen to host the 2014 final of that same competition and cutting the gap on pesky Porto to one point. A win this evening over Algarve outfit Olhanense would see them temporarily leap-frog their rowdy rivals into first place. However, just before you stick the mortgage on The Eagles to grab all three points, it’s worth noting that their traditionally modest opponents are enjoying one of their best ever seasons in the top division.
3) MLS: Seattle vs Houston, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
A battle of undefeated sides, I hear you say? Let’s be having some of that! Except the MLS season has only reached matchday…three. Still, Sounders fans always create a cracking atmosphere, and the Dynamo have looked pretty solid so far. Seattle should have won the MLS last year, and Houston almost did, so the chances of a dull encounter are as unlikely as one of Mitt Romey’s campaign advisers comparing the candidate’s policies to an Etch A Sketch. Oh, wait…