UPDATE 4: A summary in the form of a pretty picture--
|Braga (Por) / Dynamo Kiev (Ukr)||v||Benfica (Por) / PSV Eindhoven (Ned)|
|FC Porto (Por) / Spartak Moscow (Rus)||v||Villarreal (Esp) / FC Twente (Ned)|
In sum, we drew a favorable matchup in the quarterfinal, though the return leg will be in Holland. The semifinal will be a challenge, no matter which side we face, but El Madrigal will be full for the return leg. About the best we could have hoped for; now the boys have to come through. Endavant!
UPDATE 3: The Braga-Dynamo winner (QF #4) will host the semifinal second leg against Benfica or PSV (winner of QF #2), while we would have the return leg at home against either Porto or Spartak (winner of QF #1). So we do not avoid Porto until the final. Oh well.
And for official purposes, the winner of our semifinal would be the home side in the final at Lansdowne Road in Dublin.
UPDATE 2: Porto-Spartak was the first pairing out of the pot, followed by Benfica-PSV. I like it; we avoided the two best attacking sides left, both from Portugal.
And Villarreal draws Dutch side FC Twente, with the first leg at El Madrigal on April 7, while Braga will face Dynamo Kyiv. I think we've done well.
UPDATE: The draw is underway. Fixtures to come shortly. For now, here are the Champions League pairings.
|Inter (Ita) / Schalke (Ger)||v||Chelsea (Eng) / Man Utd (Eng)|
|Real Madrid (Esp) / Tottenham (Eng)||v||Barcelona (Esp) / Shakhtar (Ukr)|
How about a Mourinho special in the semifinals? Inter-Chelsea and Madrid-Barca arguably are the most likely semifinal matchups.
After a comfortable win to advance to the Europa League quarterfinals, we are back to ping-pong balls and tiny slips of paper in Nyon, Switzerland. That's right, another draw featuring suits and Irish legend Ronnie Whelan.
Interestingly, looking at the odds after the first knockout stage draw, only FC Porto would be more highly-favored to win the competition. I think that's about right.
A quick look at our 7 potential opponents, grouped by country:
Portugal (3): FC Porto is unstoppable this season, having not lost in the Primeira Liga. They routed Genk in the playoff round, won Group L ahead of Besiktas, and have knocked out Sevilla (on away goals) and CSKA Moscow. That is the team I want to avoid at any cost. See you in the final? Hope you don't make it that far.
SL Benfica dropped down from the Champions League and has since defeated Stuttgart and PSG. Same story for SC Braga, which beat Arsenal at home and now has overcome Lech Poznan and the once-mighty Liverpool.
Holland (2): FC Twente is a nice story, managed by former Belgian keeper Michel Preud'homme. They also dropped down from the Champions League and since have beaten two Russian sides, Rubin Kazan and title favorites Zenit St. Petersburg. Take them for granted at your peril.
PSV Eindhoven, a veteran of European competition, took out Sibir Novosibirsk to reach the group stage and won Group I ahead of Metalist Kharkiv (which Bayer Leverkusen defeated 0-6 in the round of 32). PSV has defeated Lille and Rangers to reach this stage.
Russia (1): Thanks to FC Twente's aforementioned scalps, FC Spartak Moscow is its country's last European representative. Another Champions League third-place group stage finisher, they have eliminated Basel and Ajax.
Ukraine (1): FC Dynamo Kyiv missed out on the Champions League group stage but has recovered nicely, thanks in part to the ageless Andriy Shevchenko. They won Group E ahead of BATE, clobbered Besiktas, and slipped past Manchester City to reach this stage.
In sum, every opponent will be difficult, but FC Porto is head and shoulders above the rest. 6:7 chance to avoid them, so the odds are in our favor. Endavant!