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Champions League: What Made This Competition So Great Again?

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  • Champions League: What Made This Competition So Great Again?

    Champions League: What Made This Competition So Great Again?

    Everything we thought we knew, we don't - the Champions League is back to its enthralling and unpredictable best, and Goal.com's Sulmaan Ahmad has a few ideas why.

    April 9, 2009 9:15:15 AM

    CL: Branislav Ivanovic, Liverpool - Chelsea (PA)

    Anyone who says they saw all four Champions League quarter-final first legs panning out as they did is a liar.

    Anyone who denies the past two days have been a celebration and resurrection of adventurous, entertaining and exceptional football is insane.

    But then that's the thing: there are so few bitter Bayern, Liverpool or Man United fans. They may rue the inevitable and indisputable mistakes made by their clubs, but there have been far less excuses and complaining than usual, because the football really did do all the talking.

    Who said football needs controversy to be exciting?

    In two breathtaking nights, four captivating games have been played out between eight fearless and talented teams. The atypically tentative and uninspired round of 16 is history.

    Inter and Real Madrid are two clubs in particular that, whether they admit it or not, now believe themselves to be cursed in Europe. And it shows. These are great clubs that ultimately failed to live up to their billing.

    Add to this Juventus and Atletico Madrid sides still not suitably rehabilitated to trade blows with the best of the best and Roma, a side like Lyon, now on the way down after having hit their peak, and it's not hard to see why they ended up as near-misses.

    And to finish off the complement of those eliminated, there are Panathinaikos and Sporting CP, whose only knockout potential was the physical and literal process of being knocked out in the first place.

    It's now clear that the right teams went through from the second round to serve up the best games in the quarter-finals. We perhaps didn't know it then, but we know it now.

    Who is honestly wishing that Roma, Inter, Juventus or Real Madrid were here, other than fans of those clubs or countries? No one. The competition has progressed perfectly without them.

    Villarreal out-passing Arsenal with their trickery and technique was truly captivating and both the game's goals were out of this world.

    Porto's young guns tearing through the reigning champions stunned the masses and will have put all of Europe's elite on alert ahead of the summer transfer window.

    The return of Drogba and Essien, as well as the delayed emergence of Ivanovic and undisputed arrival of Hiddink was almost dumbfounding. Liverpool rarely look so helpless.

    Barcelona kept alive their magic, blitzing a Bayern side that were just starting to be taken seriously.

    Two weeks ago, this entire showpiece had been written off as a dirge - a Premier League procession - and who knows, maybe that's what it needed to be sparked back into life.

    The rest of Europe (barring Barcelona) had been counted out of contention, just as England (barring Man United) always had been in years gone by.

    The mass media has perpetuated the belief that the 'big four' will dominate for years to come off the back of a couple of years in which they have been the dominant presence in the quarters and semis.

    When the Italians and Spanish enjoyed this success, there was never such widespread prophecy of a decade-long dynasty or anything of the sort being on the horizon for them, so why for England? Maybe the belief that the Premier League has relative recession immunity is what makes this era so much more scrutinised than others from years gone by.

    Several figureheads from around Europe have at times expressed a sense of powerlessness with regards to stopping the Premier League dominance. That pathetic, defeatist attitude thankfully wasn't adopted by the likes of Porto and Villarreal and will hopefully serve as an example to one and all, next season and beyond.

    The same four English teams' repeated qualification for the competition has enabled them to practice to the point of perfection and the energetic, pressing game of the English game has provided a culture shock of sorts to several European heavyweights, but it is merely a matter of time until they acclimatise to the wind of change sweeping over UEFA's showpiece event.

    What captured the imagination of many fans was the defiance of the underdogs: Porto, Villarreal and even Chelsea. None were expected to win, but all not only got somewhat surprising results, but outplayed their opponents.

    The favourites were favourites no more - and that's what makes Barcelona such a genuine threat: they were the only big guns who lived up to their billing.

    Three Premier League teams could yet go through; Bayern could yet even beat Barcelona. A few of us remember Barca throwing away their Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe despite a monumental first leg lead, most of us remember what Deportivo did to Milan a few years ago and absolutely everybody remembers what Liverpool managed - again against Milan - in Istanbul four years ago.

    Anything can happen, but it probably won't. This wasn't defying the odds just for defiance's sake. This was the beautiful game blossoming in its evolution.

    Barcelona still drop the odd lead, but Pep Guardiola is not Frank Rijkaard.

    Liverpool are still the architects of the impossible, but Hiddink never loses by three goals - at least not against teams on a similar skill level - and especially when knowing exactly what's required from the game in order to win the tie.

    Meanwhile, Porto have never lost to English opposition at the Dragao and already showed they can subdue all kinds of firepower at home, but United rarely disappoint when all is to play for, while Villarreal remain the most likely candidates for heroic failure, just as they did when the draw was made.

    All roads leading to Rome sure has come in handy, as we now find ourselves taking a couple of spectacular detours along the way, knowing and hoping this tournament reaches the destination it deserves.

    Sulmaan Ahmad, Goal.com
    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

  • #2
    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."