Soccer

2009-10 UEFA Champions League preview: Quarter-finals

Eight of the best soccer teams from across Europe continue their quest to be crowned continental kings when the quarter-finals of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League continue this week.

Eight teams remain in Europe's top club competition

All eyes will be on FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi on Tuesday. ((Denis Doyle/Getty Images) )

Eight of the best soccer teams from across Europe continue their quest to be crowned continental kings when the quarter-finals of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League continue this week.

Reigning European champions FC Barcelona, English title holders Manchester United, and Italian giants Inter Milan will all be trying to progress through to the final four in order to earn a spot in the final at Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

CBC Sports commentators Nigel Reed and Jason de Vos, and CBCSports.ca soccer expert John F. Molinaro offer their analysis and predictions for the second leg of the quarter-finals.

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 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.

Tournament Format

The 32-team field is divided into eight round-robin groups. Teams play three games at home and on the road with three points for a win and one for a tie. The top two teams in each group at the end of the group stage advance to the next round.

After the first round, the tournament takes on a single-elimination format. The remaining 16 teams are paired off and play a home-and-away playoff. If the teams each win a game, the overall score over the course of the two games acts as the tiebreaker, followed by goals scored on the road. If the teams are still tied, a penalty shootout solves the issue.

This two-game playoff format carries over into the quarter-finals and semifinals before the last two teams standing meet in the final on May 22 in Madrid.

Previous Winners

  • 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).

FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. Arsenal (England) — Series tied 2-2

Nigel Reed: How Barcelona did not win the first leg remains a mystery. The Cup holders will not be so generous in the decider back home at the Camp Nou. Arsenal did remarkably well to battle back for a share of the spoils in London but their endeavour was costly in terms of personnel, which will prove decisive. 

The Gunners' playmaker and top scorer, Cesc Fabregas, will be denied the chance to grace the stadium in which he dreamed of playing as a teenager and Andrei Arshavin's pace and predatory instinct will also be sorely missed. The Spaniards must make do without Carlos Puyol but he is not irreplaceable. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved in the opener Barcelona is not a one-man team but you can't keep Lionel Messi quiet for long. His unique skill set is worth the price of admission alone and the little Argentine will relish the return. With home advantage and two away goals in the bag, the Gunners are goners. 

Prediction: Barcelona wins 3-1 (Barcelona wins series 5-3 on aggregate)

Jason de Vos: It is impossible to quantify the loss of Cesc Fabregas for Arsenal. He is integral to everything that Arsenal has achieved this season, and his will be a loss that is too much to overcome for the Gunners.

Throw in the fact that Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas will also be absent, and you begin to appreciate just what a hopeless task this game is for Arsenal.

I would love to see them pull off a dramatic upset, but I just don't see it happening.

Carlos Puyol was rather harshly sent off in the first leg, and he will be missing for Barcelona. To be honest, I think they will cope just fine in his absence, as I don't expect them to be doing much defending on home soil.

Lionel Messi and company will have a field day at the Camp Nou, and it is not a question of "if" they win, but rather a question of "by how much."

Prediction: Barcelona wins 3-0 (Barcelona wins series 5-2 on aggregate)

John F. Molinaro: The Gunners did well to come from behind to salvage a draw at home last week.

But the two road goals they conceded, combined with the loss of three key players (Fabregas, Arshavin and Gallas) means the Gunners have little hope of earning a positive result at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona is, quite simply, the best team on the planet and much more than just a one-man team, as they showed last week at the Emirates. Even without the suspended Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol, the team has more than enough depth in defence to handle what the Gunners will throw at them on Tuesday.

The absence of midfielder Andrea Iniesta (leg injury) and forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic  (right calf) will hardly slow down the Catalans. The sublime Xavi Hernandez will continue to pull the creative strings, Lionel Messi will terrorize defenders with his quickness and Thierry Henry and Bojan Krkic will supply the goals.

Prediction: Barcelona wins 4-1 (Barcelona wins series 6-3 on aggregate)

CSKA Moscow (Russia) vs. Inter Milan (Italy) — Inter leads series 1-0

Reed: It's not much of a lead but it's enough for Inter to complete the job in Moscow and ensure they are the first team to qualify for the semifinals. The Italian champions sucked the life out of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the round of 16 and are well equipped to repeat the trick in Russia. 

Jose Mourinho may not be everyone's cup of tea but he has proved, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he is a master tactician. After doing his homework, the Inter boss selects a team that can understand and execute his game plan. The performance against Chelsea was a textbook example. 

CSKA surprised many of us by beating Sevilla in the previous round and, with vociferous home support, will feel confident of creating an even bigger upset. An early goal is essential to crack the tie wide open but frustration will soon set in if it fails to materialize. 

Prediction: Game ends 1-1 (Inter Milan wins series 2-1 on aggregate)

De Vos: It wasn't especially pretty, but it didn't need to be. Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan got the win it desired on home soil - now it has to complete the job in Moscow. 

If I were a betting man - which I'm not - I would put my money on Mourinho's superior tactical awareness to grind out another result on the road. Don't expect to see beautiful, flowing football from Inter in the Luzhniki Stadium; there are no points given for style in the knockout stages of the Champions League, and there is no one more aware of that than Mourinho.

Instead, expect to see dogged, resolute defending coupled with quick, instinctive counter-attacks. If Inter can grab a precious away goal, the tie is all but over. If not, then the famous Italian defensive ability will come under real pressure, as the Russians have already proven themselves capable of taking the odd scalp or two.

Prediction: Game ends 1-1 (Inter Milan wins series 2-1 on aggregate)

Molinaro: On the surface, this appears to be an easy one to pick, with the Italians favoured to progress. But I wouldn't write off the Muscovites off so quickly. They did upset Sevilla in the previous round and managed to hold the Nerazzurri to a single goal in the opening leg of this series at San Siro.

They do, however, have their work cut out, especially without suspended midfielders Yevgeny Aldonin and Milos Krasic.

The Italians have concerns of their own. Influential playmaker Wesley Sneijder is doubtful for the game after spraining his ankle in training. The potential absence of the talented Dutchman would be a big blow for Inter, as he has been the club's best player in recent weeks.

Still, Inter has so much midfield depth and lethal firepower up front in the form of Gabriel Milito that anything less than a victory would be a surprise result.

Prediction: Inter wins 2-0- (Inter Milan wins series 3-0 on aggregate)

Will Wayne Rooney be fit to play for Manchester United on Wednesday? ((CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images))

Manchester United (England) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany) — Bayern leads series 2-1

Reed: If Manchester United fails to reach the semifinals, they will have only themselves to blame. The Germans recovered to take full advantage of some uncharacteristically sloppy defending in the opener and without Wayne Rooney, United could struggle to open up a well-organized Bayern defence. 

The absence of the England striker makes the job tougher for United, but certainly not impossible. With or without him, the English champions have built a European fortress at Old Trafford in recent years losing only once in 25 Champions League ties on home soil. AC Milan felt the full force last month. 

Bayern, though, boast a better record than most at the Theatre of Dreams. They have left Old Trafford unbeaten on each of their last three visits and a draw this time would be sufficient. United's experience will be key if they are to win and, even minus Rooney, a single goal is all that is required. 

Prediction: Game ends 2-2 (Bayern Munich wins series 4-3 on aggregate)

De Vos: Can one man carry an entire team on his back? We are about to find out, as Manchester United's entire season looks like unfurling in the absence of Wayne Rooney.

Beaten over the weekend by Chelsea, the wrong result against Bayern could see the season end in ruin for the Red Devils. With the Premier League title Chelsea's to lose, United now have to overcome a stubborn German side that will be confident of stealing a result at Old Trafford.

I'm not a fan of historical results, because I don't think that players care one bit about what happened in years gone by. One thing players do care about, though, is who is lining up beside them in the tunnel when they walk out on the pitch. Dimitar Berbatov is an excellent player, but he is no Wayne Rooney.

That fact might just be enough for Bayern to grab the result they need away from home.

Prediction: Game ends 1-1 (Bayern Munich wins series 3-2 on aggregate)

Molinaro: Will he or won't he play?

That's the question United fans are asking themselves of Wayne Rooney after several English newspapers hinted that he is ahead of schedule in terms of his recovery.

Incredibly, the English striker was originally ruled out for 3-4 weeks after spraining his ankle last week in Germany. If he does manage to play Wednesday, it'll be a big boost for the Red Devils.

But even if he doesn't come back, I still think United has enough to get past Bayern at home.

The English side was very sloppy in possession in the opening leg, which saw the Germans dictate the pace of the game for long stretches. Maintaining possession and making Bayern chase the ball will be the key for United, but to do that they will need better efforts from Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher.

And, of course, with Rooney out, Dimitar Berbatov needs to step up and show why manager Sir Alex Ferguson spent just over 30-million pounds to buy him from Spurs two years ago. With the world watching, the Bulgarian will finally come good for United.

Prediction: Manchester United wins 2-0 (Manchester United wins series 3-2 on aggregate)

Bordeaux (France) vs. Lyon (France) — Lyon leads series 3-1

Reed: The first leg was just a great game of football. With French pride and a semifinal berth on the line, the second leg will just as juicy. Bordeaux have no choice but to attack from the first whistle and, if the first match is any indication, this tie will produce many more goals. 

Laurent Blanc knows his team is up against it but must not allow his uncertainty to transmit itself to his players. His job is to restore their confidence and remind them they are French champions for a reason. He must also preach patience since Bordeaux 's away goal may ultimately prove decisive. 

Lyon is in the box seat but they are not home and dry. The next goal is pivotal to the overall outcome. If Bordeaux score first on home soil the momentum shifts in their favour. Should Lyon open the scoring, the visitors can dictate the pace of the game which, by that stage, will be over as a contest.    

Prediction: Bordeaux wins 2-1 (Lyon wins series 4-3 on aggregate)

De Vos: Bordeaux is suffering a minor crisis right now, having failed to win any of their previous four fixtures - one of which was the 3-1 reversal by Lyon in the first leg of this series. Laurent Blanc will be desperate to turn things around by winning the home leg.

Lyon, on the other hand, is coming into form at just the right time. French football fans are witnessing one of the tightest title races in recent memory, as five teams are all within a point of each other at the top of Ligue 1. Lyon vaulted to the top of the pile over the weekend with their 2-1 victory away to Stade Rennais, and the confidence will be flowing through their side as a result.

I think that Bordeaux will make a real contest of it, but the 3-1 score-line from the first leg might prove to be too much to overcome.

Prediction: Bordeaux wins 2-1 (Lyon wins series 4-3 on aggregate)

Molinaro: Talk about a tale of two teams: while Lyon is in the ascendancy in Ligue Un, Bordeaux has fallen on hard times.

But Laurent's Blanc men have caught a break as they return home for the second leg: Lyon will be without dangerous goal-scorer Lisandro Lopez and veteran attacker Sidney Govou, both suspended. It'll be interesting to see how Lyon copes without Lopez, because he's their go-to guy for goals.

Blanc's team is noted for its defensive organization but they'll have to play with a little more attacking ambition and go after their opponents from the opening kickoff. Playmaker Yoann Gourcuff and forward Marouane Chamakh will have to team up to put constant pressure on the Lyon defence and get an early goal to unsettle them.

Lyon is a tough team to break down, though, and I just don't think Bordeaux can overcome a two-goal disadvantage.

Prediction: Bordeaux wins 1-0 (Lyon wins series 3-2 on aggregate)

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