Ex­pect the un­ex­pected

Cham­pi­ons League matches will pro­vide proof that foot­ball is the beau­ti­ful game

CityPress - - Sport - MONDLI MAKHANYA mondli.makhanya@city­press.co.za

When you get to this stage of the Cham­pi­ons League, every encounter is epic. Even those games that you might con­sider less tan­ta­lis­ing turn out to be clas­sics, and you end up curs­ing your­self for be­ing out of the con­ver­sa­tion be­cause you opted for an early night.

Bay­ern Mu­nich vs Real Madrid

The fi­nal be­fore the fi­nal, as many would say.

Mu­nich are un­touch­able at the mo­ment, as ev­i­denced by their unas­sail­able lead at the top of the Bun­desliga.

Their 10-2 de­struc­tion of Ar­se­nal over the two legs of the last 16 was no fluke.

Ar­se­nal fans blam­ing the rout on past-ex­piry-date man­ager Arsène Wenger are also partly cor­rect. Carlo Ancelotti’s charges are a sure-fire mean ma­chine and were al­ways go­ing to make the quar­ter­fi­nals. The ques­tion was whether it was go­ing to be rou­tine pas­sage or a hu­mil­i­a­tion.

With old man Ar­jen Robben be­ing as de­pend­able as ever, this self-be­lief is at its peak.

Madrid hold a slim lead at the top of La Liga, and their pas­sage into the last eight was more re­spectable than their ri­vals. Their re­cent per­for­mances have not been as ruth­less as the Ger­mans, but Zine­dine Zi­dane will be de­ter­mined to up­stage the man to whom he was a side­kick when Madrid won La Dec­ima three sea­sons ago.

De­cline any re­quests for meet­ings and dates on those two days.

Barcelona vs Ju­ven­tus

Based on what they did to Paris Saint-Ger­main on that mem­o­rable sec­ond-leg night at Camp Nou, pre­dic­tions are that Barcelona will go through to the semis.

But these ig­nore the fact that they wel­comed their vis­i­tors trail­ing 0-4. This shows that, for all their beau­ti­ful and ruth­lessly ef­fec­tive foot­ball, Luis En­rique’s men are vul­ner­a­ble.

When they met in the 2015 fi­nal, Barcelona tri­umphed 3-1. This Ju­ven­tus side is a more clin­i­cal one, hav­ing been ac­cused of tak­ing the ex­cite­ment out of Serie A as they cruise to a sixth con­sec­u­tive ti­tle. En­rique needs to end his Barcelona ten­ure on a high and noth­ing would beat leav­ing the team that made him the player he was and the coach he is with this, the sec­ond most-prized jewel in foot­ball.

If you are a bet­ting man (or woman) don’t bet on emo­tion or that last 16 magic at Camp Nou. The Ital­ians’ de­fence is no­to­ri­ously stingy, so Barcelona’s MSN (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Ney­mar) will have to con­jure up some­thing re­ally spe­cial.

Borus­sia Dort­mund vs Monaco

This will be a view­ers’ dream, both on an off the field. Off the field, there is the “Yel­low Wall”, the Dort­mund fans who stand be­hind the goal and make a hell of a racket – the spice of great foot­ball sta­dium at­mos­pheres.

On the ground, there will be the likes of Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang, who scores beau­ti­ful goals in the most im­prob­a­ble sit­u­a­tions.

On the other side, there is the sen­sa­tional 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé, whose last 16 per­for­mance broke the hearts of Manch­ester City fans and re­duced Pep Guardi­ola to just an­other coach.

While the Dort­mund team is the more ac­com­plished, daz­zling Monaco en­sured the world stops as­so­ci­at­ing French foot­ball only with Paris Sain­tGer­main.

Le­ices­ter City vs Atletico Madrid

This is Cin­derella vs for­mer Cin­derella.

Le­ices­ter City were not sup­posed to be here. Last sea­son, they gate­crashed the top ranks of Euro­pean foot­ball by win­ning the English Premier­ship. This sea­son, they col­lapsed spec­tac­u­larly on the do­mes­tic front, but mirac­u­lously kept their Euro­pean flame burn­ing.

Go­ing into the sec­ond leg of the last 16 trail­ing Sevilla 1-2, vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one on our planet con­cluded the fairy tale was over. But here they are, up against a team that also bull­dozed its way to the top of La Liga and secured a per­ma­nent place at the top ta­ble of Euro­pean gi­ants.

Logic says this has to be the end of the road for Le­ices­ter. Atletico are too or­gan­ised and ex­pe­ri­enced to suc­cumb to this sur­prise pack­age. But that is what we all said in the mag­i­cal 2015/16 EPL sea­son, and that is what we said last week be­fore the Sevilla clash.

PHOTO: TF-IMAGES / GETTY IMAGES

HIT Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang of Borus­sia Dort­mund is the club’s top hit­man and has be­come a hit with the fans

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