A Champions League final, semi-final and a group stage match. Confused? Don’t be. Here’s today’s three to watch:
1) UEFA Champions League semi-final, first leg: Chelsea vs. Barcelona, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The much-awaited clash between passing perfectionists and robust Route One-ers is finally upon us. The Catalans are huuuge favourites, but quietly confident murmurings have been coming out of Stamford Bridge over the past few days, albeit slightly incomprehensible ones. As ever when facing Pep Guardiola’s men, the way in which their opponents go about finding an answer to the ol’ question “how do we deal with wee twinkle-toes?” is likely to decide the outcome of the match. If Messi can be muffled (they could always steal his boots, but that’s soooo last night), and Drogba and Mata are on top form, we might just get a game.
2) CONCACAF Champions League final, first leg: Monterrey vs. Santos Laguna, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
Yes, they’re both from the same country, and goodness knows that doesn’t normally lead to enthralling matches in the CCL’s European equivalent (we refer you to the AC Milan-Juventus snorefest final of 2003), but both Mexican sides are playing well, scoring goals and flying high at the top of the league. What’s not to like?
3) Copa Libertadores, Group 4: Boca Juniors vs. Zamora, 00.30 CET/18.30 EST
Boca Juniors could feasibly clinch first place with a win, but they may not be all that bothered, having already qualified for the next round. They’ve won four games in a row in all competitions, while their modest Venezuelan opponents, who’ve struggled badly in this year’s tourney, have lost their last four. One player who sadly won’t be taking to the pitch is Boca forward Santiago Silva, who broke two fingers smacking a Tigre fan on Sunday. No, really.
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