Monday, July 4

Dream Barca, Real ‘Clasico’ final possible after semi-finals draw


NYON, Switzerland: The prospect of a dream all-Spanish Champions League final between Barcelona and Real Madrid next month remains alive after Friday’s semi-final draw.

But Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund can also set up an all-German affair in the Wembley title showdown.

Last year’s beaten finalists Bayern, who have already secured the Bundesliga title, take on Spanish league leaders Barcelona in one semi-final.

In the other tie, Borussia will play Real Madrid, as representatives of Europe’s current dominant footballing powers go head-to-head.

Remarkably, the four semi-finalists can boast a total of 18 European titles between them.

Real lead the way with nine victories, although their last success dates back to 2002.

Their arch-rivals Barcelona and Bayern both have four and Borussia weigh in with their single victory in 1997 when they upset favourites Juventus 3-1 in the final.

Neutral fans were probably hoping for a Bayern v Barcelona final, promising a feast of football between arguably the continent’s top two teams of the moment.

The semi-final is given added piquancy in that former Barca coach Pep Guardiola is to take over the helm at Munich’s Allianz Arena next year.

But Jupp Heynckes, the man he is to replace, is not planning on asking the Catalan for any advice.

“I don’t need anyone else to study the opposition,” he snapped when asked if he’d seek out his successor’s thoughts.

“Have a bit of respect for me and my work. I have never consulted anyone for advice.”

Heynckes will no doubt also be hoping Real win through to the Wembley showdown, as a fitting way to bring down the curtain on his long and distinguished coaching career against the side he led to the European crown in 1998, when he brought the Madrid giants their first title in the competition in more than 30 years.

Bayern, having comprehensively dispatched Juventus in the last round, again have home advantage first but are unlikely to find the Barca defence as porous as the Italians, who shipped four goals without reply over the two legs.

However, if they are to reach their third final in four years, Bayern will have to do so without the services of leading scorer Mario Mandzukic, who is suspended for the first leg.

Barcelona, in their sixth semi-fial in as many years, showed just how reliant they are on World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi in their hard-fought quarter-final triumph over Paris Saint Germain, eventually prevailing on away goals.

But they needed the less-than-fully-fit Messi to come off the bench in the second leg in Barcelona to orchestrate the equaliser on the night that saw them through.

While the neutral may think they’ve been given a kind draw, Jose Mourinho’s Real are unlikely to relish the thought of another trip to Dortmund in this season’s competition.

In the group stages, the Germans overran Real 2-1 and then earned a deserved 2-2 draw in Madrid to finish top of the group. And the way Real struggled to overcome game Galatasary, losing the away leg 3-2, while Dortmund were getting the better of another Spanish side Malaga with two late goals, will doubtless set the alarm bells ringing in the Spanish capital.

“We respect Borussia Dortmund and I need to say that we played them twice already this season and weren’t able to beat them, so eliminating them will not be easy,” former Real striker and now the club’s director of institutional relations Emilio Butragueno was keen to stress.

There is also the little matter of the bitter memory of their last German semi-final opponents, Bayern, who beat them on penalties at the same stage of the competition last season.

The first leg matches will be played on April 23 and 24, with the return games on April 30 and May 1, with the final at Wembley stadium in London on May 25. — AFP