Are we on track for an all-German Champions League final?


The question in the headline is a bit absurd. The final UEFA Champions League bracket not drawn until after the quarterfinals (a round later than previous years), meaning we won’t know if Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will be able to avoid each other until Wembley. They may have to play for the right to get there.

So let’s engage in a bid of bad form and rephrase the question. Which two teams are most likely to reach Wembley, and are they both German?

See how cumbersome that is? Regardless, you get the point.

There’s little doubt Bayern Munich’s among the best teams in Europe. Given Barcelona’s recent struggles, Bayern seem to be on their own level. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll reach the final, but they seem the safest bet.

Among the tournaments other contenders are Barcelona and Milan, who meet next week. Paris Saint-Germain has the talent, Málaga’s defending can keep them in any match, while Juventus has shown the steel to compete with anybody. And, of course, there’s the José Mourinho-led Real Madrid, whose contenders’ credentials were affirmed by their win at Old Trafford.

But none of those teams look as good as Borussia Dortmund, a team whose Tuesday thumping of Shakhtar Donetsk forces us to consider the European landscape. This is a team sitting on two straight German titles that bested Real Madrid and Manchester City in group play. Their 3-0 win over Shakhtar was by far the most impressive result an opponent’s posted on the Ukrainians, a team that played Juventus twice.

If you’re judging teams by what happens on the field — whether that be the team’s isolated accomplishments or comparative results — Borussia Dortmund look as good as anybody. And their talent supports that stature. Robert Lewandowski’s an elite scorer. Mario Götze and Marco Reus are menaces at the next level. Ilkay Gundogen is one of the better central midfielders in Europe, while Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic form a formidable pair in central defense.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know Dortmund’s talented. But you also may not be used to the idea of “new” teams being contenders for Champions League. BVB is obviously not a brand new club (they won the title in 1997), but they’re also not Barcelona. Or Manchester United. Or Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or any of the other teams we’re used to competing for Champions League. They are, in that narrow sense, kind of new.

But look around Europe and you’ll see the symptoms of a continental shift. England will be out of Champions League in a weak. Italy has waned. Paris Saint-Germain’s still a project, and neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid are as strong as they’ve been in recent years.

And in the interim, Germany’s grown. Borussia Dortmund may have just lost a one-sided match to Bayern Munich, but it’s becoming and more clear that Bayern’s of another world. They’ve lapped the field, for now.

But as for that field, Borussia Dortmund may be the head of the pack. At least, their results hint they are.

So are we en route to an all-German final? It’s too soon to tell. But does Germany have the two best teams in Europe? That’s an easier question to answer.

Cisse arrested in sex tape investigation

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Former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse is embroiled in a bizarre investigation into the extortion of a sex tape.

The 34-year-old French striker has been arrested by French police who have confirmed that are investigating attempts to bribe another international footballer.

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Unconfirmed reports from France claim that the individual in question is France and Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, a former teammate of Cisse at both Marseille and with the French national team.

According to Reuters news agency, Cisse was questioned because he was familiar with the people involved and in total four individuals were arrested as it is alleged they plotted to ask for money from Valbuena for the sex tape to not be released. It is unclear if the tape is of Valbeuna and his partner Fanny Lafon, or if other individuals are involved.

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Cisse won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool and scored 24 goals in 79 games during his three-year stay at Anfield until 2007. He also had spells with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League, while he is currently out of contract after being released by Ligue 1 side Bastia following nine goals in 41 appearances. Cisse is due to appear on the French version of “Dancing with the Stars” in the coming months.

Further reports from France say that Cisse is expected to be “exonerated” and that the existence of the video is “not proven” at this point.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

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There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?