By Kenneth Duru
The 2015/2016 UEFA Champions League which is now at its most crucial stages has thrown up a lot of surprises. Most of the top rated teams have fallen by the wayside in the journey to the city of Milan, the venue of the grand finale which is scheduled for May 28. Most of the results this season seem to have left puzzling effects on so many bookmakers, soccer pundits and other informed watchers of the game.
Except for the likes of Real Madrid FC of Spain and Bayern Munich, most of the traditionally favoured sides have failed to qualify for the semi finals. Only a few analysts would have imagined a quarter final exit for the very powerful Barcelona FC of Spain. The much touted Barca – “Tiki Taka” brand could not stand the fire power of the Diego Simeone tutored Athletico Madrid. Lionel Messi and his gang could not hold on to a slim (2 – 1) first leg advantage. They fell (2 – 0) like a pack of cards at the Vicente Calederon home of Atletico Madrid in the reverse tie. Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC (both from England) failed to qualify for the crucial semi final stage.
Paris St Germaine of France which showed so much promise in the opening stages, eventually succumbed to the giant killing machine of Manchester City FC of England. Clearly the surprise team of this season, a section of pundits believe that the Etihad side in its first ever semi final has carried its fairy tale run too far. They appear to have marked the only surviving English side for elimination by Real Madrid FC in the semi final pairing. Man City cynics do not see how the team can survive the predating instincts of the Ballon d Or chasing Crisitiano Ronaldo.
But the Manuel Pellegrini boys are far from being scared of the massive credentials of their opponents. They appear rather determined to win the silverware as a parting gift for their outgoing manager. Their inspirational French – born right back, Bacary Sagna captures the mood succinctly: “It would be the best to win it (the Champions League Shield) for the manager, but we still have a lot of work to do to achieve that. Getting to the semifinal is massive,”
For Bayern Munich FC on the other hand, many analysts believe that the show is mostly about their mercurial manager Pep Guardiola. The Spanish born tactician needs the UEFA diadem to add to his scintillating profile at FC Barcelona where he won several La Liga titles in addition to the Champions League. He also has to show his Manchester City paymasters that their investment would be worth the while.
However, should Athletico Madrid go all the way to clinch the trophy it would most likely be seen as a major upset which would create excitement for critics for a long time to come.
A Real Madrid victory will obviously pave the way for the showboating Cristiano Ronaldo to clinch the coveted Ballon d Or prize by FIFA at the end for this year’s football season. Ronaldo is seriously poised to close the gap between himself and his arch rival, Lionel Messi of Barcelona FC who has won the award for a record five times.