Johannesburg – At the end of the Champions League’s group phase, the Premier League had a historic five teams advance to the knockout stage of the competition.
This prompted English fans to start dreaming of Ukrainian capital Kiev hosting an all-England final later in the year.
However, that dream received a serious setback in the return legs of the round of the last 16, as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur both suffered home defeats and were knocked out. Also out were Chelsea, who failed to get the better of Barcelona.
Worse was to follow on Friday, when the two remaining English Premier League clubs – Manchester City and Liverpool – were drawn against each other in the quarter-finals.
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp told journalists: “I think it is an absolute dream draw, for all Manchester United fans. I really don’t mind.
“I knew it would be difficult and that is difficult. The good news is for Manchester City it will be difficult as well.
“I saw Txiki Begiristain’s (Manchester City director of football) face after the draw, and it didn’t look like it was Christmas and Easter on the same day,” the German said.
Germany’s sole representative – Bayern Munich – were mostly smiles as they avoided Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, instead facing Sevilla, arguably the weakest of the eight teams in the competition.
Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, who spent several years coaching in Spain and won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 1998, did not share the euphoric reaction to the draw.
“I know Sevilla, I know Spanish football. It is certainly not an easy passage into the next round. They will be very difficult opponents.”
German international Thomas Müller, however, is already thinking beyond the next round. “We have a lot of confidence and want to play like that. We want to win that thing and have not been in a final for a long time, so we want to qualify,” he said.
Repeat of last year‘s final
The round of the last eight sees a repeat of last years’ final, as Juventus take on Madrid for a semi-final place.
The Champions League offers a last chance for Los Blancos who, last year, secured a comfortable 4-1 victory against La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady) in the final, to save their season.
Having been knocked out of the domestic cup by mid-table Leganes and finding themselves 15 points behind Barcelona in third position in La Liga, it seems likely that Real coach Zinedine Zidane needs Champions League success to save his job.
For iconic Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, the games against the defending champions could well be his last in the lucrative competition. He announced at the end of last season that he intends to retire. The only way to extend his career would be to win the Champions League.
Surprisingly, Real have yet to play a final against their fiercest rivals, Barcelona. However, both clubs are expected to remain on track as both face Italian opposition in the quarter-finals.
The in-form Lionel Messi and his Barca team-mates have to overcome Roma if they want to make it all the way to the final – where they last appeared in 2015.
Roma legend Francesco Totti said he was happy that the club was among the best eight in Europe.
“But we face this tie with serenity and tranquillity. We know Barcelona are one of the best teams in Europe, but we know that we can do well against them too.
“On paper, Sevilla and Liverpool were the affordable sides, but that’s not the case. It’s different on the pitch,” he said.