x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Nations collide in final four of Uefa Champions League

Germany and Spain have the chance to make it a one-country show in the final as clubs are kept apart, writes Ian Hawkey.

Jordi Alba, left, and his Barcelona teammates will once again battle with Real Madrid and Jose Maria Callejon.
Jordi Alba, left, and his Barcelona teammates will once again battle with Real Madrid and Jose Maria Callejon.

Club football's pre-eminent showpiece, the European Cup final, may yet become a celebration of the might of a single country.

Friday's draw for the semi-finals kept Real Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's leading clubs, apart and maintained the possibility that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga champions this season and last, could meet at Wembley on May 25.

In the more diverse assembly that is the Europa League, the Swiss club Basle take on Chelsea, the 2012 Champions League winners, while Fenerbahce of Turkey play Portugal's Benfica in its last-four stage.

 

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Bayern Munich v Barcelona

There will be no spectator more intrigued than Pep Guardiola, who last year gave up the job of coaching the Barcelona club he had guided to two European Cup triumphs and two losing semi-finals in four years, and who will take up the reins at Bayern in July. Might he inherit, in Munich, the best club team in the world?

Reinforced in key positions since they lost the last Champions League final on penalties, Bayern's forceful, confident ousting of Juventus in the quarter-finals suggested they have the means to examine a Barcelona defence that is short, because of injuries, of first-choice personnel.

Bayern's top scorer, Mario Mandzukic, is suspended for the first leg, in Munich, but there is depth in the squad of the kind even this gifted Barca would envy. Might Bayern call up Guardiola, their coach-elect, for some tips on how to beat the team he constructed? "That would not be ethical, and it would show a lack of respect," said Mathias Sammer, Bayern's director of football. "Jupp Heynckes is our coach, Guardiola only arrives in the summer."

 

Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid

Dortmund took four points off Madrid in the group phase, finishing above them and earning the sort of applause that has accompanied them most of the way through the competition for their vigour and enterprise.

It may take them a while, however, to recover from the nervousness and drama of their quarter-final, which they rescued with two goals in stoppage time of the second leg: they had been trailing Malaga 2-1 on 90 minutes.

Much German fascination will surround how three of the country's most creative players shape up: Dortmund's young internationals, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus, will oppose their Germany teammate Mesut Ozil.

Real have reached their third successive semi-final but are still waiting for the first appearance in a final since 2002, when the club won their ninth European Cup, in 2002.

"Real Madrid are a very tough opponent," said Jurgen Klopp, the Dortmund coach. "But of the three we might have come up against, they are the only ones we have beaten this season."

Klopp would be happy enough for a repeat of his 2-1 home win and 2-2 draw in Spain in the autumn.

April 23

Bayern Munich v Barcelona, 9.45pm (UAE time)

Dortmund v Real Madrid, 9.45pm

April 30

Barcelona v Bayern Munich, 9.45pm

Real Madrid v Dortmund, 9.45pm

 

 

EUROPA LEAGUE

Basel v Chelsea

The Swiss champions have, in the past 18 months, knocked out both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur from European competition, the latter of those via a shoot-out, after a 4-4 aggregate draw, which earned Basle a place in this semi-final.

So Chelsea are forewarned, and ought by now to be immunised against the idea that just because they won the Champions League 11 months ago, they should not anticipate a smooth journey to the final of Uefa's lesser tournament.

Basle have an excellent young goalkeeper in Yann Sommer, and some valuable experience up front, in Marco Streller, with the veteran Alex Frei in reserve.

But with Fernando Torres finding some form, and the interim manager Rafa Benitez in his favoured environment of knockout football, the Premier League club begin as favourites to make it to Amsterdam for the final.

 

Fenerbahce v Benfica

Having survived the peppering of their goal by Lazio on Thursday night to emerge with a 1-1 draw and a 3-1 win on aggregate, Fenerbahce may have to prepare for more of the same from the Portuguese leaders.

Benfica are unbeaten in their domestic league and have lost only twice in Europe - to Barcelona and Spartak Moscow in the group phase of the Champions League - and they have potency up front.

Expelled from Uefa competition in 2011/12 because of a match-fixing scandal, and ordered to play behind closed doors because of supporter misbehaviour for one of their matches in this Europe League run, Fenerbahce are the rogues of the competition.

But they have plenty of know-how in the squad, in the shape of the Holland striker Dirk Kuyt, the Cameroonian Pierre Webo, the Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo and the Portuguese midfielder Raul Meireles.

 

April 25

Fenerbahce v Benfica, 11.05pm (UAE time)

Basle v Chelsea, 11.05pm

May 2

Benfica v Fenerbahce, 11.05pm

Chelsea v Basle, 11.05pm

 

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