Any combination of the teams in today’s Champions League semi-finals draw would have produced exciting match-ups.
It’s easy to argue that Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona are Europe’s three best teams. Because they are. As for Borussia Dortmund, they’re a distant second to Bayern in the German league and have scant recent history of European success, but play in one of the continent’s most atmospheric stadiums, have been excellent in this season’s tournament and Robert Lewandowski is one of the planet’s hottest strikers, with 15 goals in all competitions in 2013.
Plus, there’s the intrigue that comes from two German clubs and two Spanish sides in the last four. It’s increasingly tough to dispute that these days the Bundesliga and La Liga produce Europe’s finest teams. So which nation, which league, will prevail?
The ball-plucking from UEFA’s big bowl at their Swiss HQ earlier today paired Barcelona with Bayern and Real with Dortmund. Bayern, let’s not forget, will be managed next season by former Barcelona head coach, Pep Guardiola.
“It will be a big challenge,” said Barcelona technical director Andoni Zubizarreta on UEFA.com. “We will focus on what we know and what we can do, and how much we let them play. “I think we will see a lot of good football; it will be a semi-final played with great intensity which we will approach full of respect for our opponents – but with confidence too.”
Dortmund’s general manager, Hans-Joachim Watzke, is pleased to have avoided Bayern. “We are happy with this draw – not because we think it’s an easy one, but because the Champions League is an international competition and we wanted an international game rather than a national tie against Bayern,” he said. Dortmund and Real met in the group stages, with the Germans winning 2-1 at home and drawing 2-2 at the Bernabeu. “I don’t think Madrid will be afraid because of what happened in the group stage. They will respect us, just like we will respect them,” Watzke said.
After those results, Real club ambassador Emilio Butragueno is wary: “We have a lot of respect for Borussia Dortmund. We played them twice but didn’t manage to beat them. This time we hope it will different as we want to be in the final, that’s what we are all dreaming of.”
Remarkably considering they are two of Europe’s powerhouses, Bayern and Barcelona have rarely met. On the last occasion, in 2008-09, the sides drew 1-1 in Bavaria after a 4-0 win for the Catalans in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
“We played them in 2009 and received a real thumping. I remember that game well and I don’t really like to think about it, because it was quite painful to watch. However, it’s a wonderful opportunity to show that we have improved a lot since then,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told UEFA.com.
“I think playing at home first is a slight advantage, contrary to the popular belief that it’s a disadvantage. We saw that against Juventus, where people said that it might be a disadvantage. But we produced a great performance at home and that set the stage for the return leg and our progression into the semi-finals. I’m really excited that we will get to play the best team in Europe. I still feel Barcelona are the big favorites to win the Champions League.”