We did tune in over the past few weeks for bits of March Madness–culminating in Calipari’s Kentucky completing the professionalization of the college game last night–but we found it mostly uninteresting. And although we haven’t found the Champions League completely compelling this year either, we’ll certainly be watching these quarterfinal 2nd leg matches over the next couple days to see which clubs advance to the Final 4–at which stage it should get very interesting. And it’s not only the Champions League winnowing down from 8 to 4 this week. The Europa League too–that largely overshadowed European stepchild to the Champions–also has its quarterfinal 2nd legs this week. True to our name, we actually find Europa League worth following–and this season especially so, given Athletic Bilbao’s scintillating run which has them on track for the semifinals.
Here are the fixtures and some match notes:
Tuesday, April 3 (both matches kickoff at 2:45pmET):
Barcelona vs Milan: The match of the week, and of the competition so far. After a taut scoreless draw last Wednesday at the San Siro, Milan have a realistic chance of eliminating the defending champions. It’ll be the 4th Champions League meeting between these two this season, since they were drawn into the same group. The first match last September was similar to last week’s: despite dominating possession, Barcelona could do no better than emerge with a draw. At least there were goals in that one though–Pato’s stunning 1st minute goal and Thiago Silva’s extra time equalizer sandwiched around Barcelona goals by Pedro and Villa. The return at the Camp Nou in November was an exciting affair with even more goals: Xavi’s 2nd half score eclipsed goals by Zlatan and that memorable finish by Kevin-Prince Boateng.
We expect that Barcelona will emerge victorious again today (at least this half of the CultFootball board does–like El Classico, this is a fixture that divides us)–when was the last time Barcelona lost a European fixture at the Camp Nou? Well, UEFA’s match preview conveniently provides the answer: “Barcelona are unbeaten in 14 home fixtures dating back to October 2009, with 12 wins and two draws at the Camp Nou since then, including the 7-1 defeat of Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the round of 16.” That’s preceded by these fascinating historical tidbits:
• Milan earned a 0-0 draw at Barcelona in their 2005/06 UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg but lost the tie because of the preceding 1-0 home reverse.
• The lineups for that second leg on 26 April 2006 were:
Barcelona: Valdés, Belletti, Márquez, Puyol, Van Bronckhorst, Edmílson, Deco, Iniesta, Giuly (Larsson 69), Eto’o (Van Bommel 89), Ronaldinho.
Milan: Dida, Kaladze, Costacurta (Cafu 64), Stam, Serginho, Gattuso (Rui Costa 68), Seedorf, Pirlo, Kaká, Shevchenko, Inzaghi (Gilardino 79).
• Milan’s last victory against Barcelona came on 20 October 2004 in the UEFA Champions League group stage, Andriy Shevchenko scoring the only goal. Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf and substitute Massimo Ambrosini played for the Rossoneri with Xavi, Carles Puyol, Víctor Valdés and substitute Andrés Iniesta lining up for Barcelona. Ambrosini is the sole survivor of Milan’s only previous victory at the Camp Nou, 2-0 on 26 September 2000.
• The clubs’ most high-profile encounter was the 1994 UEFA Champions League final in Athens, which Milan won 4-0. Milan also prevailed when the pair met in the 1989 UEFA Super Cup, winning 1-0 at home after a 1-1 away draw.
In fact, Sid Lowe produced a column on that 1994 Champions League final last week, calling it “the night the Dream died”–i.e., the symbolic end of Cryuff’s Dream Team era, which featured among others a young Catalan holding midfielder named Pep Guardiola.
Bayern München vs Olympique Marseille: This one is pretty much done. Bayern won 2-0 in Marseille last week, and have been on a hot streak lately. It’s highly unlikely OM will win by 3 in Munich, and so the Bavarians are on track to continue their quest to play in the final in their home stadium on May 19.
Wednesday, April 4 & Thursday April 5:
We’ve split off our previews of the other two Champions League matches & Thursday’s four Europa League matches into a separate post.