UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw reaction

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The annual last 16 draw of the UEFA Champions league took place this Monday in Nyon, Switzerland. As can be expected, some exciting ties were drawn out of the bowl in what is likely to be another entertaining round of fixtures.

UEFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino conducted his second draw in three days after Saturday’s Euro 2016 draw, but didn’t seem fatigued as he enthusiastically welcomed and briefed the delegates who were representing the 16 participants.

There was praise for Christiano Ronaldo who top scored in the group stage with 11 goals and in the process, became the competitions all-time goalscorer with 88. A hell of an achievement.

Infantino also welcomed former Internazionale Milano Captian, Javier Zanetti to the stage. The 2010 Champions League winner is this season’s ambassador for the final, which will be held in the San Siro, a stadium that Zanetti knows well.

UEFA Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti’s arrival, as has in previous years, heralded the beginning of the draw. Here are the matches:

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The one that immediately sticks out is Arsenal vs. Barcelona. The English team were beaten by the current holders in the 2006 final. They were also knocked out by the Spanish side in the 2009/10 quarter finals and the 2010/11 round of 16.

The match heralds reunions for a few players: Alexis Sanchez  left Barcelona for Arsenal last year. Hector Bellerin a product of La Masia, has the opportunity to play on a pitch he dreamed of walking on when he was younger and former Gunners Captain, Thomas Vermaelen, might face his old side if either Javier Mascherano or Gerard Pique are unavailable.

Paris Saint-Germain face Chelsea for the third consecutive season in the knockout rounds with both teams eliminating each other in the two previous years. PSG lead the French league by 17 points while Chelsea are currently 16th domestically.

AS Roma were a bit disappointing in the group stages. Unable to beat Bate Borisov at home in their last group match, they qualified because of Bayer Leverkusen’s inability  to beat a weakened Barcelona. Rudi Garcia’s team must improve if they want to shock 10-time champions Real Madrid.

FC Bayern Munich are always favorites in this competition. But their credentials will be tested by a Juventus side that reached the final last year. Kingsley Coman featured sporadically for Juve, but has flourished this season in the colors of Bayern. Expect him to have a point to prove.

It is the battle of the striped shirts when PSV Eindhoven meet Atletico de Madrid. They met before in the 2008/9 group stages, Atletico won both games. But the Dutch club will feel confident having qualified at the expense of Manchester United.

Two knockout round debutants in Vfl Wolfsburg and KAA Ghent will aim to make history by reaching the quarterfinals for the first time. Wolfsburg may look stronger on paper, but the gutsy Belgians beat Champions League regulars Olympique Lyonnais and CF Valencia to get to this stage.

SL Benfica will meet a familiar foe in the form of Football Club Zenit’s coach, Andre Villas-Boas who coached FC Porto. The Portuguese flavor continues with Zenit playmaker Danny, who’ll want to make an impression when he returns home.

Last but not least we have Manchester City who are relived not to be facing Barcelona again and will view FC Dynamo Kiev as manageable opposition. Kiev knocked City out of the Europa League in 2010/11, a similar victory would be a big triumph.

The dice has rolled and the stage is set. Initial prognostics will change as form fluctuates and fortunes turn. This is when the games will be played:

First legs:
16 February: Paris v Chelsea, Benfica v Zenit
17 February: Gent v Wolfsburg, Roma v Real Madrid
23 February: Arsenal v Barcelona, Juventus v Bayern
24 February: PSV v Atlético, Dynamo Kyiv v Manchester City

Second legs:
8 March: Wolfsburg v Gent, Real Madrid v Roma
9 March: Chelsea v Paris, Zenit v Benfica
15 March: Atlético v PSV, Manchester City v Dynamo Kyiv
16 March: Barcelona v Arsenal, Bayern v Juventus

 

Ever heard the story where a coach puts a curse on a club over a pay dispute? Well that’s exactly what Bela Guttman did to Sport Lisboa e Benfica, one of Portugal’s most successful teams.

The story goes that  Guttman who led the Lisbon club to back to back European Cup triumphs in 1961 and 1962, was furious that club officials would not offer him the pay rise that he so desired. In response he allegedly said that:  ‘Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions’. Since 1962 Benfica have lost all eight European finals they have participated in.

Some of the most recent failures include the 2013 Europa League final, where they battered Chelsea for the whole match but lost the game at the death when Branislav Ivanovic headed the winner for the Londoners. There was also the 2014 final of the same competition this time against Sevilla. Once again, Benfica missed a lot of opportunities and were made to pay when the Spanish club triumphed 4-2 on penalties.

Having watched this years final, I really felt there was something else at play besides profligate finishing. You could sense that the players were visibly aware of the curse and the fans too. As the match went on with each opportunity missed, the fear and anxiety at the Benfica end in Turin was palpable. Everyone associated with Benfica has internalized the curse and it has cost them dearly.

Interestingly enough since the curse was placed, domestically Benfica have won 21 League titles and 13 Portuguese cups. Clearly this is a club that is used to winning things, they just need to get over the Guttman curse and let their pedigree speak for itself in European competitions.

Quotes courtesy of Metro: http://metro.co.uk/2014/05/15/benfica-fail-again-in-europe-is-club-still-jinxed-by-the-bela-guttman-curse-4728323/