Will Friday’s Champions League last-eight draw at Uefa’s Nyon respect the reality of European soccer and keep apart Spain’s two giants for a possible final showdown? Nothing is certain in sport, and even if Real Madrid and Barcelona do get out into different halves of the draw, any of the other six teams is capable of pulling off a surprise victory. But, as the two clásico sides proved when cantering past supposedly tricky opposition in the last 16, defeat for either Real or Barcelona at the hands of any other team would be just that: a surprise.
Real coach José Mourinho seems to be on course to meet his stated objective of bringing Madrid the Liga trophy in his second season in charge, thus ending Barcelona’s three-season run of domestic dominance. But while Barça may have lost a little desire and consistency during the present campaign, Pep Guardiola’s team has shown it still deserves a favorite’s billing in any single game.
Leo Messi scored five in Barcelona’s second-leg 7-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen last week, and Real barely appeared to break into a sweat as it strolled past CSKA Moscow 4-1 to reach the quarterfinals on Wednesday night. Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed two, while rival center forward Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín both showed their sharpness with a goal apiece with the former replacing the latter as a second-half substitute.
Kaká played his best years in Italy, but he has never worked so hard"
But Mourinho reserved his highest praise for two elements of his Real Madrid project that have given him cause for doubt in the past: Kaká and the Bernabéu fans. Of the Brazilian playmaker, whose form and fitness have been largely disappointing since he arrived at Real three years ago, Mourinho had this to say: “He played the best years of his career in Italy, but he has never worked as hard as now. His work for the team is fantastic.”
At the end of the CSKA game, the coach made a point of applauding the fans in the Bernabéu’s Fondo Sur end after several recent petitions for supporters to be more vocal. Perhaps everything is falling into place for the Portuguese to lead a third different team to Europe’s elite crown. Over to the Uefa bag of balls.