The UEFA Champions League (CL) round of 16 finally kicks off today. Despite the many talented players vying for honors, we’ve decided to save you some time by picking out our predicted team of the tournament for the remainder of the CL.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Back from a spine-tingling clash with Stephen Hunt at the Madjeski Stadium, the Czech custodian, now sporting a dashing protective helmet, looks set to shore up a Chelsea defense decimated by injuries. It remains to be seen, however, how tentative he will be on crunching 50-–50s.
Right back: Michael Essien (Chelsea)
Essien is not a normal right back, but an “injury crisis”/crap purchase of Khalid Bouhlarooz has led to the Ghanian being deployed here. He has reacted admirably, and in playing many minutes in a variety of positions the usual central midfielder has justified his importance to the squad.
Central defense: Marco Materazzi (Inter Milan)
The only player to consistently get assaulted and subsequently punished by the authorities for his trouble, “Matrix” has been an inspirational form for the runaway Italian league leaders. His familiar brand of take-no-prisoners defending has been complemented by a fine goal-scoring touch.
Left back: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
After suffering at the hands of the English rain and fish and chips, the former Monaco defender has blossomed into the Red Devils’ first-choice left back. He’s good at both ends and has a wealth of European experience.
Right wing: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
After being blamed for England’s World Cup exit, many wondered how he would respond to the boo boys. The answer: Ronaldo has emerged as the best player in England this year. He has been the most dangerous player on the field in almost every game he’s played. He has 15 goals from midfield. At this rate, he is the early frontrunner for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Left wing: Ricardo Quaresma (Porto)
The Portuguese league’s answer to, uh, Ronaldo has put a miserable spell in Barcelona behind him and has shown that you don’t need either a place in your national team or a discernible neck to excel. Very fast with exceptional dribbling skills, he has the ability to create and score goals.
Central midfield: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
After a promising 2005–06 season, Iniesta was supposed to have to step back as his more experienced teammate, Xavi Hernandez, returned from injury. Instead, Catalunia’s latest sporting talent has become a veritable string-puller in midfield and has been a calming influence in an otherwise fractured Barcelona dressing room.
Central midfield: Francesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Ironically enough, Iniesta may never have emerged had fellow Catalan “Cesc” not moved to Arsenal. As it happens, the Gunners can boast one of Europe’s brightest talents. Fabregas combines remarkable vision with sublime, genuinely two-footed technique.
Forwards: Francesco Totti (Roma)
The top scorer in Serie A, fans, players, and coaches are calling for him to return to the national team fold. Totti has always managed to disappoint on the biggest stage, but it looks as if this year he could put the ghosts of failures past behind him. Roma first has to get past a tough draw in Lyon, though.
Fernando Morientes (Valencia)
Morientes has scored goals at nearly every point in his career. Liverpool fans will not look upon his legacy kindly, but remember when it was thought he was washed up at Real Madrid? The next season he was top scorer in the CL at Monaco en route to a run to the finals. This season, he’s joint top scorer with….
Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
If it weren’t for Ronaldo, Drogba would be a shoe-in for every possible award in England. Yours truly doubted his ability when he first came to Chelsea, but in his third year, Drogba has evolved remarkably. He’s scored all types of goals and is the most dynamic forward in this competition.
Coach: Gordon Strachan (Celtic)
Is this a joke? Partially. To his credit, the wee Scotsman has finally propelled Celtic to the last 16 of Europe’s premier competition, and they’ll fancy themselves against a lackluster Milan side struggling to cope with its inability to influence referees. Any manager that can get a team with Kenny Miller this far deserves credit.
Worst player: Andriy Shevchenko (Chelsea)
Truly awful, despite being an excellent player on FIFA 2007.
Worst FIFA 2007 avatar: Edwin Van der Sar (Manchester United)
Remember when Edwin Van der Sar turned into a goblin, didn’t see sunlight for 14 years, and lost all his teeth? Yeah FIFA, neither do we. Worst game ever.