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.
Things are hotting up in what we old gits like to call the European Cup, and there’s a Copa Libertadores tie thrown in for good measure. Today’s three to watch are:
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Bayern Munich vs Marseille, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The German press have been less than complimentary about Marseille following Bayern’s comfortable 2-0 first-leg win in France last week, making particular fun of L’OM‘s reserve goalkeeper, who was slightly at fault for the opening goal. Usual No1 Steve Mandanda is back tonight, which should lessen the general sniggering as well as the number of goals conceded. While you should never, ever, ever underestimate a team guided by Didier Deschamps, it’s difficult to see past a Bayern victory.
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Barcelona vs AC Milan, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The biggest game of the night by a milla en el campo, as they don’t say in Spain. Will Barcelona blow Milan away? Are AC the only team capable of stopping the Catalans? Will Messi score five? Will Ibrahimovic do anything of note? Will the Internet break down if I Rossoneri score an injury-time winner? No, Yes, No, No and Maybe are our well thought-out answers.
3) Copa Libertadores, Group 2: Lanus v Olimpia, 00.45 CET/18.45 EST
The South American Champs League has produced some closely contested groups this year, and Grupo Dos is a good example. With both teams having won on their last outing, and Olimpia’s fine form in the Paraguayan league being balanced out by the home advantage enjoyed by the mighty Mauro Camaronesi and Co., this match promises to be tighter than a Blue Man Group bodysuit.
Three Champions League ties, across two continents. Here’s today’s trio to watch:
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: Marseille vs Bayern Munich, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The Frenchies haven’t won the Big Cup since 1993, while Bayern haven’t ruled Europe since 2001. The Germans have a far superior team on paper (Ribery, Gomez, Neuer, Robben, and I’ll stop there so I don’t have to write out 11 names), but as that toothless bloke at the bar is fond of reminding you, paper is not the surface upon which the beautiful game is played. Munich have come unstuck in France before, but L’OM will need to find some form (recent results: losses to Dijon in Ligue 1 and 3rd division Quevilly in the Coupe) if they wish to give themselves a fighting chance in the second leg.
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: AC Milan vs Barcelona, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The chat doing the rounds at the moment is that Milan may be the only side that can stop Barça tippy-tappying their way to Euro glory once again. For inspiration, fans of I Rossoneri will look back to 1994, when one of the finest Milan teams in history put in debatably the greatest team performance ever seen in a Champions League final, spanking their highly-fancied Catalan opponents 4-0. The odds on that scoreline being repeated tonight? 150-1. Go on, you know it makes sense.
3) CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, first leg: Toronto v Santos Laguna, 03.00 CET/20.00 EST
The first Canadian side to reach the last four of CONCACAF’s showcase event, Toronto are also the last MLS team left in the competition, leaving Americans in the uncomfortable position of having to cheer on their northern neighbo(u)rs. Aron Winter’s men took care of GoldenBalls and the Galaxy rather impressively in the last round, but the task remains a sizeable one. Los Albiverdes currently top the Mexican league, are playing some damn sexy football and smacked six past Seattle Sounders in the second leg of the quarter-final. If they’re in the mood, it could be watch-through-your-fingers time at BMO Field.
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