A strange stat for you: for the past three seasons, the team that knocked out CSKA Moscow from European competition went on to win a European trophy. Shakhtar knocked CSKA out of the last 16 of the 2009 UEFA Cup; Internazionale beat the Russians in the 2010 Champions League quarter-finals; and Porto eliminated CSKA from the 2011 Europa League’s round of 32.
On Wednesday night Real Madrid knocked out CSKA from the Champions League round of 16.
Purely coincidence, of course, and Jose Mourinho will doubtless be relying on a little more than superstition in his bid for a record third Champions League title. But after today’s draw, it is easy to see why many think Real Madrid are feted to win this season’s competition.
Madrid got the easiest draw of the quarter-finals, against APOEL of Cyprus. If they win, they will face Bayern Munich or Marseille in the semis. So, in theory, Madrid could play twice in Munich, in the semi-final and Final, which could be seen as an advantage.
The draw has kept the competition’s two best teams, Madrid and Barcelona, apart – and so set up the possibility of the perfect Final. Madrid would be happier playing Barcelona in a one-off game; the only time they have beaten Barcelona during Mourinho’s time in charge was last season’s Spanish Cup Final. However, the only time a Mourinho side has beaten Barcelona in the Champions League was Internazionale’s 2010 semi-final over two legs.
No coach has ever won the European Cup with three different clubs. So Mourinho could make history this season. He certainly has everything stacked in his favour.
Overall the Champions League has a much more egalitarian feel this season, helped in no small part by APOEL’s miraculous run and the inability of English teams to defend. Spain are the only country with more than one team in the quarter-finals. The number of different countries in today’s draw – seven – was the highest since 1997, when UEFA expanded the competition to include more than one qualifier per country
Between 2000 and 2003, only four different countries were represented in the last eight. That nadir was reached again in 2009, but since Michel Platini’s tweaking of the competition format, to allow teams from middle-ranking nations an easier route into the group stages, that figure has crept up. Six countries were represented in the 2010 quarters, it was five last year, and now it is up to seven.
Meanwhile in the Europa League, it is refreshing to see only one team, Valencia, who parachuted in on proceedings from Champions League. That is compared to five teams at the same stage last season.
German and Spanish teams have taken more than half of the quarter-final places (five), along with one from Ukraine, Holland and Portugal. However, it is hard to see anything other than a Spanish victory in Bucharest on May 9.
Atletico Madrid and Valencia could meet in one semi-final, while Athletic Bilbao, in other half of the draw, are playing some magical football under Marcelo Bielsa.
There’s no doubt Spanish teams have dominated this season’s European club competitions and proved that there is more to La Liga than Barca and Madrid. But in the week when it was revealed that Spanish clubs owe more than 750 million euros to the taxman, it is debatable whether their dominance can be sustained in the long term.
By Gavin Hamilton