Champions League Draw Fallout
The outcome of the draw for the Champions League final knockout stages has more than lived up to the hype and anticipation that surrounded proceedings in Nyon, Switzerland.
First out of the hat (or large plastic ball in this case) were nine times European Champions Real Madrid. Los Blancos safely negotiated their way through to the quarter finals for the first time since 2004 after dispatching Lyon 3-0 at the Bernabeu and 4-1 on aggregate. The second name selected by Gary Lineker was that of his former club Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs' may be enjoying only their first ever season in the Champions League but the team from North London have taken to it like a duck to water. Victories over both AC Milan and Inter Milan will mean that Harry Redknapp's side will face Madrid as equals and without fear. The date for the first leg in the Spanish capital has been confirmed as Tuesday 5 April and the odds to qualify are Real Madrid 2/7, Spurs 5/2.
The second tie to be confirmed by the over smiley Lineker was an all English affair between Chelsea and Manchester United. In a rematch of the 2008 Moscow final, the Blues and the Red Devils will do battle over two legs but also interestingly, they still have to meet in a rearranged Premier League match in the coming weeks. Chelsea cruised through their second round clash with Copenhagen and will face a much tougher task when Alex Ferguson and co come to town on April 6th. Both teams are 5/6 to qualify from this hopefully epic encounter with the second and possibly decisive second leg taking place at Old Trafford. United were severely tested by Marseille in their second round game and the French side gave them several uncomfortable moments.
The next two matches were greeted with slightly less enthusiasm in the office as Barcelona were paired with Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan with Schalke.
Barcelona are regarded as the big favourites to qualify at 1/8 but will not be counting any chickens as Shakhtar beat Barca at the Nou Camp in the group stages in 2008 and Donetsk are formidable at the Donbass Arena, as Arsenal and Roma will testify to. The Ukrainians put aside Roma to make it through to the last eight for the first time and, if they can keep the first leg tight, must have half a chance in their own back yard. Shakhtar are priced at 9/2 to progress through to the semi-finals.
In a repeat of the 1997 UEFA Cup final, Inter Milan (1/5 to qualify) will take on Schalke (10/3). The reigning European champions Inter came back from the dead against Bayern at the Allianz Arena after going 2-1 down and 3-1 down on aggregate. Leonardo's team showed the grit, effort and skill that took them to the summit of European football to claw themselves back into the tie, and five minutes from time, snatch the lead. The Raul inspired Schalke qualified with a certain amount of ease after dispatching Valencia 3-1 in Gelsenkirchen. If the Germans can force a repeat performance of their shock 1-0 win in the aforementioned UEFA Cup final then they may stand a chance.
The draw for the semi finals provided even more drama when it was announced that the winner of Tottenham/Real Madrid would face the victors of Barcelona/Shakhtar. So in theory we could have an el clasico semi-final between Real and Barca, and the possibility of Spurs having to beat both the Spanish giants en route to a Wembley final. The winners of the all English tie will face either a trip to Milan or Schalke.