The draw for the 2014 Champions League final eight teams has some fantastic, some might say crazy, match ups. It was to be expected that with three Spanish Football teams in the pot two might just be drawn together and La Liga rivals Barcelona FC and Atletico Madrid obliged.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's PSG got to play the Only One's Chelsea FC, Real Madrid got a grudge rematch with Borussia Dortmund, and Manchester United have the chance to make up for, if not erase from memory, a dismal season (by their standards) by eliminating all-world, super-club and cup holders Bayern Munich.
To say that Barcelona and Atletico have had much to compete for lately is to understate their 2014 rivalry. The Madrid side are reveling in their one-point lead over the Catalans in La Liga standings, while Barca who tied Los Colchoneros 0-0 at the Vicente Caldron in January will host Madrid on the last game of the season at the Camp Nou with at least seasonal bragging rights on the line. Given how this season has gone though, this Sunday's Clasico at the Bernabeu and/or May 18th's match in Barcelona may well decide the domestic league title. Now the teams have international competition matches on April 1st and 9th to add to their servings.
Playing Barcelona at home when it matters is a daunting task, just ask any world class club save Bayern. This is well known Atletico that comes knocking and despite their domestic standing and growing international pedigree familiarity does breed contempt and Barca are not impressed. This will be a hard fought tie with the Catalans prevailing as Lionel Messi rounds out into full-throttle shape at the right time and Neymar comes into his own at about the same time. Prediction: Barca moves on with a statement win at home despite lesser luck at the Calderon.
In the competition's biggest clash of egos PSG's Ibrahimovic and Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho get to face off in another entertaining match-up. The uber-player and uber-coach have been kind to one another in public utterances and most recent writings you might peruse, but come play time these two are bound to offer up some memorable perspectives to accompany the application of their abundant football prowess.
On the field, the teams match up well and each has the big guns to take over a match or stop someone from so doing. A defensive roster of Petr Cech, Branislaw Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, David Luis and Gary Cahill, to pick a few potential starters, aided by the defensive minded Mou, should be a match for PSG coach Laurent Blanc's attacking trio of Zlatan, Edinson Cavani, and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
On the mirror side a potentially all-Brazilian defense of Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Alex, and Maxwell would have their hands full with the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, to pick three of Mou's. Prediction: In the end Ibra progresses in the only stage left him to make good on his claim that the World Cup will miss him more than him it, and PSG will squeeze by Chelsea and into the semifinals.
Nothing in last year's Champions League competition was more disturbing than the officiating of the match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmnud at Westfalenstadion. The video speaks for itself but the Spanish side, many felt, had as much reason to complain as did the Malaga fans playing the same opponent the previous fortnight at the same stadium.
For Merengues fans the end result, a 2-0 win at home that yet meant going out 4-3 on aggregate when a single extra goal would have seen them through, was a bitter pill to swallow. But the gods have their ways and this year it is Real on the upswing and on a mission, and Dortmund is simply the cherry on top. The Madrid side is playing its best football at just the right time and if they beat Barca on Sunday the high will carry them well into the Spring months.
Cristiano Ronaldo is having a career year to go along with his FIFA Ballon d'Or and a Champions League tournament win, as a precursor to bigger stages this summer is just what the Portuguese superstar wants and needs--la decima on his watch. Prediction: Real makes a meal of Dortmund, beating them decisively if perhaps not in as demoralizing a manner for Dortmund as some of the Real fans might want.
Manchester United fans must be asking themselves if the gods are truly that cruel or that kind. In a year of mostly downer news for the Red Devils, and with a potential way out of the morass they have been mired in for so long, the final straw was delivered in the form of the injury to Robin Van Persie which will keep him out of uniform for the next six weeks.
Without Robin, and despite having Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck back to their scoring ways of late, ManU simply is no match for the European club champs. Unfortunately, even if things were going swimmingly for poor Mr. David Moyes and troops, Bayern is a tough obstacle to surpass. And that may have been the gods' kindness--an exit at the hands of the champs is no dishonor.
Prediction: Pep Guardiola's Bayern win comfortably, convincingly, but not by a KO--one has to believe that ManU has too much pride and experience to allow that to happen--this should be a unanimous decision instead.