Last Friday marked the draw for the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. The initial sixteen teams in the knockout rounds became eight after last Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, and the survivors were randomly drawn against each other. From here on out there are no redraws, and the bracket will now look like this:
Apoel Nicosia v. Real Madrid
Apoel Nicosia were surprise winners over Olympique Lyonnais in the first stage of the knockout rounds, advancing by virtue of winning the penalty shootout after the teams were tied 1-1 at the end of the second leg. Meanwhile, Real Madrid saw off CSKA Moscow to the tune of 5-2. Real Madrid has all the horses, and could probably beat Apoel handily without star Cristiano Ronaldo in the lineup. Apoel is going to have to channel its inner VCU circa 2011 to advance.
Prediction: Real Madrid advances, 2-0 at Apoel, 4-0 at Real Madrid.
Marseille v. Bayern Munich
Marseille advanced over Italian side Internazionale in the first leg, while Bayern overcame a surprise 1-0 deficit in the first leg against FC Basel to triumph 7-1 when all was said and done. Bayern has been in good form lately, notching a whopping 20 goals in its last three matches. Marseille, meanwhile, has been languishing at the middle of the Ligue One table.
Prediction: Bayern advances in another lopsided series, 3-1 at Marseille and 3-0 at Bayern.
Benfica v. Chelsea
Benfica dispatched Zenit St. Petersburg in the first round by a margin of one goal. Chelsea overcame a 3-1 first leg deficit to move on over Napoli. Chelsea has looked better in recent games since firing manager Andre Villas-Boas. Benfica has secured a spot near the top of the Portuguese Liga table. Neither team is a world beater, but Benfica seem to be the better bet here given Chelsea’s recent change in direction. Watch out for Chelsea’s Fernando Torres though, who notched a brace in his last game out, breaking a seemingly endless goalless drought. Will his fortunes change now that he has some confidence behind him? Probably not, but Chelsea fans can certainly hope.
Prediction: Benfica advances 2-1 at Benfica, 1-1 at Chelsea.
AC Milan v. Barcelona
I reacted like the famous rage guy when I found out that Barcelona had drawn AC Milan in the last eight. Other than Real Madrid, this was probably the hardest team for Barca to face. AC Milan drew 2-2 at Barcelona in the group stage before falling 2-3 at home to the Blaugrana. AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be looking to show up his old coach, Pep Guardiola, while Barcelona’s Lionel Messi seeks to set a record for goals scored in one Champions League campaign. Barcelona is also looking to become the only team to win back to back Champions League titles. Both teams have quality all over the pitch, and this promises to be the best matchup of the last eight.
Prediction: Barcelona advances 1-2 at Milan, 3-1 at Barcelona.
Here’s how I think the bracket will play out after the quarterfinals:
Barcelona over Benfica: 2-1 at Benfica, 3-0 at Barcelona.
Real Madrid over Bayern Munich: 2-3 at Bayern, 3-1 at Real Madrid.
Champions League Final
Barcelona over Real Madrid: 3-2.