Four of the best soccer teams from across Europe continue their quest to be crowned continental kings when the semifinals of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League resumes this week.
Reigning European champions FC Barcelona, Italian giants Inter Milan, Germany's Bayern Munich and Olympique Lyon of France will all be trying to progress through to the final four to earn a spot in the final at Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Champions League History
The European Cup, the forerunner to the Champions League, was the brainchild of French sports journalist Gabriel Hanot.
English league champions Wolverhampton Wanderers defeated Hungarian side Honved in a 1953 exhibition match, leading the Wolves' manager to rather arrogantly dub his team the "champions of the world" in the next day's newspapers.
Hanot, editor of influential French sports newspaper L'Equipe, used this as the impetus to pitch his idea for a continental-wide tournament featuring the best European clubs. UEFA, European soccer's governing body, approved Hanot's idea in April 1955 and the European Cup began in 1955-56 featuring league champions across Europe
In 1993, the European Cup was re-christened the Champions League, and in 1997-98 the tournament was expanded to include more teams, not just league champions.
- 2009 — FC Barcelona (Spain).
- 2008 — Manchester United (England)
- 2007 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 2006 — FC Barcelona (Spain).
- 2005 — Liverpool (England).
- 2004 — FC Porto (Portugal).
- 2003 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 2002 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 2001 — Bayern Munich (Germany).
- 2000 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1999 — Manchester United (England).
- 1998 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1997 — Borussia Dortmund (Germany).
- 1996 — Juventus (Italy).
- 1995 — Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands).
- 1994 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 1993 — Olympique Marseille (France).
- European Cup becomes Champions League in 1993
- 1992 — FC Barcelona (Spain).
- 1991 — Red Star Belgrade (Yugoslavia).
- 1990 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 1989 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 1988 — PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands).
- 1987 — FC Porto (Portugal).
- 1986 — Steaua Bucharest (Romania).
- 1985 — Juventus (Italy).
- 1984 — Liverpool (England).
- 1983 — Hamburger SV (Germany).
- 1982 — Aston Villa (England).
- 1981 — Liverpool (England).
- 1980 — Nottingham Forest (England).
- 1979 — Nottingham Forest (England).
- 1978 — Liverpool (England).
- 1977 — Liverpool (England).
- 1976 — Bayern Munich (Germany).
- 1975 — Bayern Munich (Germany).
- 1974 — Bayern Munich (Germany).
- 1973 — Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands).
- 1972 — Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands).
- 1971 — Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands).
- 1970 — Feyenoord (Netherlands).
- 1969 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 1968 — Manchester United (England).
- 1967 — Celtic (Scotland).
- 1966 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1965 — Inter Milan (Italy).
- 1964 — Inter Milan (Italy).
- 1963 — AC Milan (Italy).
- 1962 — Benfica (Portugal).
- 1961 — Benfica (Portugal).
- 1960 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1959 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1958 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1957 — Real Madrid (Spain).
- 1956 — Real Madrid (Spain).
Olympique Lyon (France) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany) - Bayern leads series 1-0
Nigel Reed: Bayern enter the decider in familiar territory. The Germans have the upper hand after a slender home win just as they did against Fiorentina and Manchester United in the previous two rounds. They subsequently lost the second legs must emerged victorious on both occasions.
Bayern will expect to come under intense pressure in France but, having survived in Italy and England, they have a tried and tested game plan that works on the road. The absence of the suspended Franck Ribery lessens their offensive threat, but running a tight ship at the back is the priority.
Lyon will be on the front foot from the first whistle but patience is also required. A single goal ties the score and the Frenchmen have scored at least one in every home game this season. I expect them to find the net in the second leg but keeping the back door closed will be the bigger challenge. Prediction: Lyon wins game 2-1 (Series ends tied 2-2 on aggregate, Bayern advances of away goals)
Jason de Vos: It doesn't really matter who wins this game, does it? I mean most people assume that whoever wins the Barca-Inter tie will automatically lift the trophy, right?
The winner of the Lyon-Munich semifinal should not be underestimated. Both teams have shown great determination and staying power to reach the final four, and both will be confident of lifting the trophy if they can advance to the final.
The fact that Bayern were able to keep a clean sheet on home soil is a big advantage for the Germans. They know that if they can find the back of the net in Lyon, they will be firmly in the driver's seat. Expect them to soak up pressure from Lyon, and then try to hit them quickly on the counter-attack.
Lyon needs to dominate possession and dictate the flow of the game. If they over-commit going forward, they will be open to the counter attack, which is exactly what Bayern want. Patience will be the key for Lyon.
How both teams adapt to the absence of two of their star players (Franck Ribery for Bayern and Jeremy Toulalan for Lyon, both red-carded in the first leg) will go a long way to determining the ultimate victor in this tie.
Prediction: Game ends 1-1 (Bayern Munich wins series 2-1 on aggregate)
FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. Inter Milan (Italy) - Inter leads series 3-1
Nigel Reed: Inter made the most of home advantage in the first leg. Not only did the Italians build a healthy lead to take to Spain, they also found a way to neutralize Lionel Messi. As a result, this is now Inter's tie to lose and they will focus first on being solid defensively in Barcelona.
No doubt the Argentine superstar will be tougher to stop on home soil but Inter carries the psychological advantage into the decider after proving Barca are beatable. Jose Mourinho produced a tactical master class to frustrate Chelsea in the second round and will likely employ a similar strategy at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona must score first, as they did in Milan, to haul itself back into the semifinal and the match-up between Ibrahimovic and Inter defender Lucio will be pivotal. If the Spaniards manage to breakthrough early the tie swings in their favour. The longer it goes without a goal, the better for Inter.
Prediction: Barcelona wins game 1-0 (Inter Milan wins series 3-2 on aggregate)
Jason de Vos: Inter Milan did an excellent job of shackling Lionel Messi in the first leg in Milan, but I fear that their job will be much more difficult at the Camp Nou. The home crowd will inspire Messi, and I expect he will live up to his reputation as the world's best player.
However, I don't expect Barca to have it all their way. They took the lead in the first leg, yet Inter stormed back to score three goals. The Italians' resilience is admirable, and it will come in handy when they come under pressure in Barcelona.
Can Jose Mourinho live up to his own hype? So far in the Champions League, the Special One has outwitted every one of his opponents. I expect him to have a few surprises up his sleeve, and while I don't think he will win the fight in Barcelona, I think he is clever enough to win the war.
Prediction: Barcelona wins 2-1 (Inter Milan wins series 4-3 on aggregate)