The last 16 of the Champions League almost always throws up a few surprises and a few feisty encounters, and this time was no different.
On one hand we had teams like Juventus and Borussia Dortmund finally converting their domestic prowess into something worthwhile in the the competition, while we also had surprise overachievers in Malaga, Celtic and Shakhtar Donetsk adding further intrigue to the first knockout stage.
And obviously we had the regulars of the tournament staking their claim in Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. So what exactly did the round of the first legs of the last 16 give us?
The answer: a whole lot of excitement, and a dramatic, and really promising 8 games to look forward to. Lets have a look at the eight games played so far, and the state each lies in...
Celtic vs Juventus (0-3)
Celtic had a huge task up upon them. Only four times had Juve lost a football match in the season, and given Celtic's squad, they needed another miraculous effort like the one they put up against Barca to hold the Italian giants.
Sadly though, the result didn't quite come. The effort was there, but unfortunately Celtic have nothing to show for it. Neil Lennon decided not to use the strategies he used against Barca and fell short there.
Celtic played the better football maybe, but conceded three goals to counter attacks from Juve whilst failing to score any. More critically though, they gave up two of the three goals in the last 13 minutes of the game.
So what looked like a tricky tie in Turin, is now almost a done deal. The Bianconeri now have three away goals, and a 3-0 aggregate lead to protect at their home ground, a ground where they've lost only twice this season. Based on all this, one must say, the boys from Glasgow stand no chance to make a quarter final appearance. This one's done and dusted.
Arsenal vs Bayern Munich (1-3)
"We must not concede against Bayern," is what Arsene Wenger said before the first leg of their tie against the German giants. But now the Arsenal manager is looking to "make the impossible, possible" in the second leg.
Bayern completely dominated Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and beat them, fair and square. Arsenal just could not hold up to the pressure Bayern piled, and honestly, crumbled. They have a monumental (read impossible) task on their hands now, and are all but surely headed for another trophyless season. Wenger's job might still not be under question, but the whispers are getting louder and the writing on the wall.
FC Porto vs Malaga (1-0)
Los Boquerones might not realistically have a chance of winning the Champions League but what they have shown so far is mettle. In Isco, they have a potential world beater, and have a solid defence to back him up. Yes, they did concede a goal in Portugal but that does not show how good their defence exactly was.
Porto had as many as 18 goal attempts, out of which they shouldn't have had even one converted. While, yes, objectively speaking, Joao Moutinho's goal was offside. On the other hand Porto have slowly begun to reinstate the belief in themselves that once Jose Mourinho did.
They have certainly begun to be visible on the European radar once again, and have decent chance of making it to the quarter finals, given the superb form Jackson Martinez and their 15 match unbeaten run. The second leg at the La Rosaleda Stadium promises to be a cracker.
Valencia vs PSG (1-2)
OK, firstly, Lucas Moura is the real deal. And boy did he choose a stage to show that. He sparkled and showed us just why his transfer looked over the top even by PSG's standards.
Topping Porto in the group stage and beating Valencia away, doesn't prove them to be world beaters, but their season so far has been pretty decent. Domestically, they're doing well enough to see them lift the French Ligue in May and in Europe, they've all but cemented a place in the quarters. They might find it tough against stronger and more experienced teams later on, but currently they do look the part.
Valencia on the contrary are struggling. An easier group saw them through and although Adil Rami's late goal did give them a glimmer of a hope but its going to be very tough for them to step up in France it seems.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's soft red card does leave PSG susceptible up front but conceding two goals to a goal drought hit Valencia seems unlikely. I back the French side to carry on the crusade. The tie in Paris will be interesting though.
Galatasaray vs Schalke 04 (1-1)
Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder in attack, another awesome crowd at the Turk Telecom Arena, one expected the Turkish giants to win handsomely over Schalke. And when Buruk Yilmaz scored early on, things looked like going as per the script.
Schalke had other ideas, and they held on to 1-1 draw in Istanbul. All we can hope for now is that Drogba and Sniejder get settled in the Turkish scheme of things and Gala show us some great (read transformed) football in two week's time because on current form, either team can progress to the quarters of the Champions League, but sadly, neither deserves to.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund (2-2)
The dark horses of the competition lost their ace Willian in January to Anzhi and their chances against the German champions seemed dim. But they stood up, leading until the very end as they looked like carrying a one goal advantage to the Signal Iduna Park.
But sadly for them and critically for the tie, Dortmund scored late and are now in pole position to make it through this really interesting tie. Shakhtar had fought valiantly through a tough group, ousted the reigning champions and stood up against Dortmund too. Can the Ukrainians do it in Germany? Well.. maybe.
But they'll have to play some outstanding football to beat the German Champions in front of the most vociferous home crowds in world football. Most people wants Shakhtar to win, (except Dortmund fans) and it'll be great for the tournament too. But realistically, is it going to happen? You never know!
AC Milan vs. Barcelona (2-0)
Why didn't Lionel Messi play against Milan? Well... he actually played, but got about the same screen time as Mario Balotelli, who by the way wasn't playing and enjoying the game with his friends.
Barcelona surely could put up a case of Milan parking the bus against them and putting up an Inter Milan-ish or a Chelsea-ish performance but the truth told, it was not parking the bus.
It was just a perfect defensive display by the boys from Milan. Until they finally scored the opener, they did sit back and absorb the pressure, but once they got the goal they looked the part. They were very lucky in scoring the first goal but once they did that, you almost sensed a heroic defensive effort coming.
Why Barca succeed generally against teams that put men behind the ball is because they generally slow down the pace so much that the other team go too slow (read come to a standstill) to see a telling run from the right. This is why tiring teams generally concede late on to the Blaugrana. But Milan were determined. They put up a majestic display and came up with a two goal advantage from their home ground.
Counting Barca out would yet be childish, but what this performance has done for the Rossoneri is giving them a real fair and hefty chance of making it through to the last eight. It's going to be a daunting encounter for them at the Camp Nou, but if they ever had a chance of going through against Barca it is this.
Real Madrid vs. Manchester United (1-1)
And finally, the match the world was waiting for. Ronaldo against his old club, Mourinho against Sir Alex, there were so many key battles in the game and the best part about the first leg was, that no one came out as an outright winner. A 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu meant that United would feel quietly confident for the second leg, but the quality Mourinho's men have, and the history Cristiano has in Manchester means that, by no way is this one over.
The second leg promises to light up the Theatre Of Dreams, and one of its best performers ever, returns to showcase what red half of Manchester is missing. It's going to a cracking one, and as they say these days, "one does not simply, miss such games."
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