The final four of European soccer has been set, and if college basketball analyst Dick Vitale were calling the semifinal matches, he’d have plenty of reason to shout, “Yeah, Baaaaaaby!”
The semifinals pit Spanish soccer royalty against Germany’s best: Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund. The German clubs have been spectacular all season, and the Spanish rivals are always fun to watch.
Depending on how things go, we could wind up with an all-Spanish or all-German championship showdown May 25 at Wembley Stadium. How much fun would that be?
The German teams host the first leg of semifinals April 23 and 24, and then the party moves to Spain, where the second legs are played April 30 and May 1.
Barca squeaked into the semis with a 1-1 tie against Paris Saint-Germain, and needed a goal in the final 30 minutes to do it. Needless to say, Lionel Messi dazzled off the bench and is a big reason the Spanish giant is still standing. He certainly impressed PSG’s David Beckham, who declared after the match that Messi is a step above Cristiano Ronaldo.
“They can have similarities in their technical skills and talent, and it is hallucinating for football to have them both present, but Messi is simply the best player in the world,” Beckham told Telam. “He is alone in his class as a player; it is impossible that there is another like him. He, like Cristiano Ronaldo, who is not at his level, are both above the rest. We were leading before Messi came in, and once he came in, Barcelona scored.”
Barca is looking for its third Champions League trophy in five years. Only Real Madrid has completed such a feat in recent memory when it won three between 1998 and 2002.
Bayern had a much easier time advancing, rolling to a 4-0 aggregate win over Juventus. Bayern’s attack is led by Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Tomas Muller, who will challenge Barca defenders Jordi Alba and Dani Alves. Bayern’s defense has the unenviable task of trying to corral Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Real Madrid held off a dangerous Galatasaray team, and Dortmund also had a scare in the second leg of the quarterfinals, down 2-1 to Champions League rookies Malaga in extra time, but managed to pull out the win just in the nick of time.
Madrid and Dortmund played each other twice this season, as they were in the same Champions League group. Dortmund won 2-1 at home, and the teams tied 2-2 in Madrid. Real features Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil, among other international stars.
The UEFA Europa League also had its draw Friday. It is the equivalent of the NIT in college basketball, the tournament for the best teams that didn’t make the Big Dance.
Fenerbache will play Benfica, and Chelsea will play FC Basel ( Roger Federer’s home club), which upset Tottenham Hotspur with a pair of 2-2 games and a penalty-kick victory. The Europa League semis are April 25 and May 2, and the final is May 15 at Amsterdam Arena.
• Cherundolo returns? Veteran U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo hopes to return to the national team for the summer World Cup qualifiers. The 34-year-old, who is the captain of German club Hannover, has played 87 matches for the national team.
He has not played recently because of a knee injury but returned to the Hannover lineup last week.
“I have been in permanent contact with [U.S. coach] Jurgen Klinsmann,” Cherundolo told German magazine Kicker. “Klinsmann always inquired after me. I have congratulated him and the lads on the important points in the World Cup qualifiers. There are three friendlies and two qualifiers during the summer. I want to be part of them.”
U.S. women roll: It changed its coach and shuffled the lineup, but the U.S. women’s national team keeps on winning. The United States extended its unbeaten streak to 31 matches with a 3-1 win over Netherlands at The Hague. The Americans are 26-0-5 since March of 2012. Tobin Heath scored two goals and Christen Press added one.
The latest U.S. lineup was Ashlyn Harris; Ali Krieger, Rachel Buehler, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara ( Alex Morgan, 79th); Heather O’Reilly ( Meghan Klingenberg, 65th), Yael Averbuch ( Lauren Cheney, 79th), Julie Johnston, Heath; Press, Sydney Leroux.
• Box office: Spain plays Haiti on June 8 at Sun Life Stadium in a friendly that will serve as the Spanish national team’s preparation for the Confederations Cup in Brazil later that month. The full Spain roster is expected, including many stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Tickets start at $29, and a limited number of VIP Field seats will be made available on the sidelines. All ticketholders will be invited to watch practice at the stadium the day before the match. Fans can purchase tickets at www.sunlifestadium.com and www.ticketmaster.com or by calling the stadium box office at 305-943-8000.