I know I've said this enough times before, but: there really isn't much that can beat the Champions League for drama, is there?
Valencia CF 0 - 0 FC Internazionale Milano (2-2 agg, Valencia through on away goals)
Well done to Valencia. They had arguably the most difficult task of all the Spanish teams, and managed to succeed where Barca and Real failed. I'll be cheering them on now for the Cup (especially given the quarterfinal draw), although it's hard to see how they're going to make it with Baraja out for the rest of the season, Vicente injured yet again and bans sure to result from that rather comical brawl with Inter. Poor Argie Nicolas Burdisso is never going to look the same again.
Joking aside, the fact that Burdisso and Dacourt had to play in midfield because Inter were missing Vieira and Cambiasso had a big impact, which I predicted in my preview. And of course Valencia are excellent at grinding out results when they need to.
My prediction was: Valencia to squeak it, and I was right.
Chelsea FC 2 - 1 FC Porto (3-2 agg)
As predicted. Credit to Porto for at least giving it a good go, though. If this current team can hold on to their star players and continue to develop, they may as yet make something of themselves in European competition. Chelsea on the other hand are now favourites to win the Champions League. I'm not so sure, but they've got to be at least up there.
One last, overdue note: Didier Drogba. What a player. I still bitterly dislike his antics, but as the man himself pointed out once, you can't argue with his work rate. Or his goal-scoring record.
My prediction was: Chelsea to go through. Me and every other wannabe pundit in the world, and we were right.
Liverpool FC 0 - 1 FC Barcelona (2-2 agg, Liverpool through on away goals)
Light-hearted note first: the rule of the yellow away strip held (5 wins and 2 draws in Europe), which makes me ever more convinced that the awful orange away kit was a bad idea.
On a more serious note, this is not an easy game for me to write about, but I have to say, congratulations to Liverpool, they deserved to go through, and good luck to them for the rest of the competition. Fair play, too.
And good for Gudjohnsen - he desperately needed a goal. Sure, it didn't amount to anything, but in terms of pride and morale I think it was important to at least leave Anfield with a victory. After all, we all know what's coming up this weekend.
Olympique Lyonnais 0 - 2 As Roma (0-2 agg)
Wow, what an upset. I don't know about you, but this was the result that really shocked me. Great work by Roma, and terrible from Lyon, who no doubt expected much more from this campaign given their squad's potential and their progress through their domestic league.
My prediction was: Lyon to go through. Obviously, I was dead wrong.
Arsenal FC 1 - 1 PSV Eindhoven (1-2 agg)
What a game from Alex! Must have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for the poor guy. Ronald Koeman's teams have this knack of reaching above their actual skill level through organisation, hard work and (it must be said) riding their luck. It's not pretty, but it's very effective. He did it with Benfica, and he's doing it again with PSV.
As for Arsenal, it was the same old story. They created enough chances to win the game many times over, but no one could put the ball in the back of the net. Believe me, Barca fans know all about that particular frustration, but that's the way football is, I suppose.
It's rather sad, really, since they do have a very talented young squad, and yet their season is pretty much over barring fighting Liverpool for 3rd place in the Premiership, which isn't exactly an inspiring battle-cry.
(I'm pleased to note that Sun Xiang of PSV became the first Chinese footballer to start a game in the Champions League. He also helped set up Alex's goal, if I'm not mistaken.)
My prediction was: I'll go for Arsenal, but it'll be close. I was wrong. It was close, but not like that.
Manchester United FC 1 - 0 Lille OSC (2-0 agg)
Not as easy as it could have been for Man Utd, but in this instance I can't really blame Sir Alex for not using 4-4-2, since he's missing so many attacking players. (But I have to say this: Silvestre instead of Heinze? Seriously?) United were not at their best against a determined but limited team, and probably made their fans suffer a bit unnecessarily.
I'm glad my wish that Larsson would give United fans something to remember him by came true. The man's a byword for reliability, and he's got a great sense of occasion. Of course he was going to score.
My prediction was: Manchester United can walk it at Old Trafford, if they remember to stick to 4-4-2. Except they didn't, and laboured to victory instead.
FC Bayern Munich 2 - 1 Real Madrid CF (4-4 agg, Bayern go through on away goals)
Oh dear. You've got to feel sorry for Capello, his best laid plans shattered by an embarrassing slip-up in the first 12 seconds of the game. For God's sake, from their own kick-off! It has to be said that I think there isn't much difference between the two teams - in fact, Real can probably play better football. But they had very bad luck with injury to crucial team members (Beckham, Reyes, Cannavaro) and going to Germany is always difficult.
(Roberto Carlos has just announced he's leaving at the end of the season. I'm sorry to say this, given how great he used to be, but it's probably about time to quit while he's ahead.)
My prediction was: Bayern it is. And I was right. Real are just as fragile as Barca, so the kind of lead they had really wasn't enough.
AC Milan 1 - 0 Celtic FC (1-0 agg, Milan through after extra time)
A heroic performance from Celtic. I don't want to sound patronising, because after all they've worked so hard over the 2 legs with little reward, but I bet this did no harm to their reputation Europe-wide. Very impressive, and I look forward to seeing them back in the Champions League next season.
As for Milan, now that they're through to the quarterfinals I think they're proper contenders. But they're not a great team. (I haven't seen a truly great team in this year's Champions League yet.) Still, they're very good at the knockout stages of European competition. (Like I predicted: ability to score late goals when they really need to at home, check.)
My prediction was: Milan's experience will come through in the end. Hopefully Celtic will at least fight the good fight (not literally) though. And that's exactly what happened. Almost depressingly predicable, that one.
1) Milan v Bayern Munich - ooh, intriguing. Very much in the traditional of grand old European showdowns. Except neither team are in top shape, really. I'd expect Milan to outclass Bayern, at least based on current showings.
2) PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool - but they just played each other in the group stages! I think Liverpool need to be wary of PSV, despite the results earlier in the season. Koeman's crafty coach, and so is Benitez. It's going to be interesting to watch the tactical battle, if nothing else. I think Liverpool will make it through this one.
3) Roma v Manchester United - unconventional match-up, but very interesting. Roma can give United trouble, especially if they're still having injury and form problems by then. A lot depends on how fit Roma's own razor-thin squad is, too. Hard to say, especially given United's need to concentrate on their title race. I'll delay judgement on this one, but I have a sneaking feeling that if United aren't careful, they could stumble here.
4) Chelsea v Valencia - this is the draw that made me happiest. Valencia are the kind of team that knows how to play against teams like Chelsea, and they have a canny coach in Quique Sanchez Flores who will be a match for Mourinho. The only problem is that Valencia's injuries are mounting up again: Baraja and Vicente for starters. I think those two are more important than whatever suspensions UEFA will hand out for the brawl against Inter, since Navarro isn't a starter and Marchena, who's the only other one up on charges, isn't essential either. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I'll call it for Valencia. Barring yet another meltdown, I think they can do it.
semi-finals: W4 v W2, W3 v W1
My pick for the competition overall? The bookies in England have got the English clubs at the top of their lists, with Chelsea favourite. I can see that logic, since the 3 English clubs are fairly well-placed, but my instincts say not to rule out Milan or Valencia either.