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February 17, 2006

Great matchups mark Champions League action: On Soccer

The UEFA Champions League is back and there are some mouthwatering fixtures to look forward to. Read on for the official Maroon preview.

Arsenal v. Real Madrid (ESPN2, Tuesday, 1:30 pm)

Omar: There can only be one winner here, and it’s barely worth stating. One of these teams has a Champions League Pedigree, an experienced squad, and good domestic form. That won’t be enough. I’m picking Arsenal to take this tie 10–0 on aggregate.

Mark: Well, that’s quite a conservative take. It’s the first time these two teams have met in both of their illustrious histories, and it could not come at a worse time for Arsenal. Yes, the team is in the midst of a brutal injury crisis. Yes, they are missing Patrick Vieira. But there’s really no excuse for the utter lack of quality that’s marked Arsenal’s season.

O: I’m backing Henry to show Real the benefits of a striker who hasn’t eaten all the pies. As for our performances this year, form is temporary, and class is permanent.

M: I agree, and Real Madrid have it. The Galacticos have charged up the table as of late. Zidane is rolling back the years, Ronaldo is coming back to his best, and even Becks has started to play football again. Real Madrid will take it 4–3, but it will be tight.

FC Barcelona v. Chelsea FC (ESPN2, Wednesday, 1:30 pm)

M: Another one of the premium ties in this year’s Champs League features a rematch of last year’s epic battle. That match had everything: Goals, controversy, drama, and a ridiculous goal from Ronaldinho.

O: I expect another cracking pair of matches, but I reckon that the taste for revenge might give the Catalans the edge. They’re still smarting from John Terry’s illegal equalizer. Arsenal rejects Giovanni van Bronckhorst, and Silvinho should be the difference.

M: As much as I hate to admit it, I think Chelski is too good even for the best the continent has to offer. If Lampard were Brazilian, he would have run away with FIFA Player of the Year. As it stands, he’s the best European player right now, and he’s going to absolutely control the center of the park. Watch out for the obligatory horror tackle from Essein. I predict that Ronaldinho might not survive the first leg. It will end knotted 2–2, with Chelsea advancing on away goals.

O: Chelski will look to grind the game to a halt and pick the Catalans off, much as they did last year. I expect this will fail yet again, resulting in two open games. After being routed by Middlesbrough, the Blues are ripe for being put to the sword, and the words of advice Frank Rijkaard received from Steve McLaren this week are bound to be crucial. Barcelona should advance 5–4.

M: As for the rest of the draws: I’m backing Lyon to get by PSV in a tight one. OL is my pick to win the Champions League, and they’ll just get by the runaway Dutch Eredivisie leaders, who were semifinalists last time around. The French team has faltered a bit in recent weeks, but they’ve got too much class to be kept down for long. Their midfield is one of the best in Europe-

O: I’ll eat my hat if Gerard Houllier can guide a team to the Champions League title. If North London is robbed of what would clearly be a deserved victory, I’ll have to plump for Italian giants Juventus, who’ll easily dispatch Werder Bremen. Despite being tagged as “The Old Lady,” they have a strong and attractive center including the likes of Gallic hardman Patrick Vieira and Czech wizard Pavel Nedved.

M: There are two other Italian teams left in the draw, and though they’re not exactly breathing down Juve’s neck in Serie A, both AC Milan and Inter are capable of bringing Cup glory to the city of Milan. Inter face the horrendously bad Ajax, whom they should do away with quite easily, but the road might get tougher for them from there. Milan meanwhile face Bayern Munich in another attractive tie. Bayern, led by Michael “Playing for a Massive Contract” Ballack, are laying well but Milan are finalists from last year and are out to earn redemption. Look for the Italians to just shade this one.

O: Let’s not forget reigning champions Liverpool, who face a less-than-arduous trip to Lisbon. They’ll be taking on Portuguese bigwigs Benfica, who, together with Spanish side Villareal, dumped a limp Manchester United side out of this year’s competition. The Red Devils will shortly be joined by Glasgow Rangers, whose qualification for the quarterfinals is even less likely than Arsenal failing to scoop the big prize.

M: Well, the Champions League always promises some of the best European football of the club season, and this will be no exception. These premium ties will offer almost everything. Including crap Scottish football.