Champions League survivors…you rank them

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On Friday the draw for the quarter-final of the UEFA Champions League will be made. Eight small balls will be swirled around glass pots, each containing a name and for the first time in 17 years, none of those names belong to an English club…but that’s another story for another day.

There will be no more country protection and that means the dream final that many neutrals are craving for between Barcelona and Real Madrid could become a two-legged dogfight, which in my humble opinion is far more desirable that a potential cat and mouse affair at Wembley at the end of May.

Looking at the eight, it’s time to stir the tea leaves and figure out who will lift Europe’s greatest prize.

Barcelona: After the destruction of AC Milan, Barca have to be firm favorites but there are problems that unless addressed will cause the four-time winner to crash out. Lionel Messi can’t save them every time.

Real Madrid: Jose Mourinho appears to be on a mission to make himself a deity and the only way he can achieve this is by bringing home the trophy that means the most to a club that defines itself by European Cups.

Bayern Munich: There is a sense of de ja vu about the Germans. Last year’s shock loss to Chelsea still burns deeply and despite almost sending half of Germany to the emergency room against Arsenal, to bet against them is foolhardy.

Borrusia Dortmund: This is a club that is loving their sleeper tag. All the pressure is on the rivals from the South, which is allowing Dortmund to play with freedom that harks back to ’97 when they stunned Juventus to win it all.

Juventus: If Dortmund are the sleeper, Juve are simply assassins. Incredibly no one outside of Italy rates them that highly, which is a massive mistake as this club is a lot better and deeper than most think. If the draw is kind, Juventus could end up in London.

PSG: Money can buy you lots of things including world-class players but it won’t buy you a Champions League title. Those have to be earned and it’s a season too early for the French outfit who do boast quality but there is still something missing and I believe that’s character.

Galatasaray: If there is one match to savior for atmosphere the home leg of Gala’s tie will be a white-hot affair. The Turkish side have defied the oddsmaker on numerous occasions during this run however unless their fans can dig a trench around the 18 yard box it all ends here.

Malaga: Despite enough off field problems to fill a novel, Malaga keep finding a way to get it done on the field. They’ll be desperately hoping to avoid their countrymen but there are no easy ties left in the final eight.

Who wins it all…you decide.

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

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He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

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Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

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Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.