This article first appeared in the Chinese New Year 2010 special issue of World Gaming magazine.
The round of 16 of the Champions League sees four of Europe’s top form teams drawn against each other. Chelsea will take on Inter Milan and Manchester United will battle the other Northern Italian powerhouse in AC Milan. The only sad thing is that it will be an early exit for two of these giants of the game. Both matches offer a touch of nostalgia as two former idols will be revisiting the grounds that made them household names and built their careers.
The irrepressible David Beckham has completed his loan to AC Milan from LA Galaxy just in time to be eligible for an emotional return to Old Trafford. The former English captain will almost certainly play his final game at the ground in front of the fans who watched him through so many transformations. Coming straight out of the Manchester United Academy in 1992 a gifted long-haired teenager thrilled the local Manchester faithful who instantly recognised his rare talent. He became England’s biggest villain after being sent off against Argentina in the finals of the 1998 World Cup but still went on to become England’s captain in 2000. He also became the saviour of the World Cup qualifying campaign with a last gasp free kick against Greece in 2002.
Along the way he picked up six Premier league titles, one FA Cup, a Champions League Medal and a Spice Girl. Haircuts came and went, tattoos appeared as the body and brand became an icon. Why he will always remain a champion though is because his football has always had the last say. It’s nearly seven years since he left United to join Real Madrid but love or hate him; nobody at Old Trafford will have forgotten David Beckham and this game will be one not to be missed.
Inter Milan boss Jose Mourinho, the ‘Special One’, was the man that led Chelsea out of the wilderness. In 2005 he took them to their first domestic title in 50 years and matched that by going backto- back the following season in 2006. The ‘Special One’ will always be revered at The Bridge not only for the silverware but also for firmly establishing Chelsea FC as not only an EPL powerhouse but one of the most feared clubs in Europe. Since Jose left the club the Londoners have never tasted the same success and in April last year there were rumours that both players and fans were pushing for Mourinho to return. The man in the hot seat now, Carlo Ancelotti, has done well this season and Chelsea fans are once again looking to taste success both in the Premiership and in Europe. The job, however, is only half done and a knockout at the hands of highflying Inter would surely send the rumour mills into overdrive again.
In other games Lyon faces a Real Madrid team where the likes of Ronaldo and Kaka are finally starting to settle in. While their talented list has been improving all season, Lyon appears to be struggling to find any consistent form. Real fans would love to see their team take on Spanish rivals Barcelona later in this competition so a loss here for Madrid would be bitterly disappointing.
Stuttgar t has spent the season languishing in the wrong half of the Bundesliga which is not ideal preparation for facing Barcelona. The Spanish League leaders, current Champions League Champions and bookies’ favourite looks nearly unbeatable and the Germans will need nothing short of a miracle to progress.
Bordeaux sits on top of the French League and is having an impressive season. Manager Laurent Blanc is only in his third season of management but his success with Bordeaux has already seen him touted as a possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United or even manager of the French national side. Success at this level is always important and Bordeaux will be expected to beat Greek powerhouse Olympiakos.
FC Porto takes on Arsenal in what should be the closest game of the round of 16. Both teams are capable of piling on goals whilst playing beautiful flowing football. Arsène Wenger will certainly miss the guile and experience of Robin van Persie, but he will still believe his team can make it through.
In the last two games, German giants Bayern Munich will be happy to have drawn a Fiorentina side who have been finding goals hard to come by. The typical miserly Munich defence should see Louis van Gaal’s men through. CSKA Moscow and Sevilla have hardly been setting their domestic leagues alight this season. Possibly the freezing February weather in Moscow may be the deciding factor but it is hard to see either of these sides going any further in the competition.