There’s a reason why you label certain teams with words like “elite” and “favorite.” They pull off victories. Was it purely an anomaly that those teams in this batch of Champions League matches went winless in the first leg? While Bayern Munich and Real Madrid easily punched their tickets to the final eight, Marseille and Chelsea needed late game heroics to join the remaining field. Inter Milan failed to live up to their own winning pedigree, proving why “favorite” is just as the word describes and not a certainty. Chelsea wasn’t a favorite after their recent form, yet they pulled it off. You play to win the game as Herm Edwards says, yes? It’s no different in world football.
Let’s break down the final four matches in the round of 16:
Bayern Munich 7, Basel 0 (agg, 7-1 Munich)
Arjen Robben is the only athlete with a higher receding hairline than LeBron James, and like the NBA star, this dude has game. The follicle deficient winger for Bayern Munich proved so as he quickly leveled the total against Basel with an 11th minute strike after two early missed attempts. Although he later added another goal (“81) for the brace, the man of the match was his club mate Mario Gomez, grabbing four goals (“44,”50,”61″67) to advance the German club to the final eight. French international Frank Ribery held the opposite flank, ankle breaking Basel into three assists, with Thomas Muller (“41) and Gomez the benefactors. Basel came into the second leg optimistic with a one goal lead but after the whooping suffered under Munich, becoming first Swiss club to advance to the knockout rounds was the only history made on their UCL campaign.
Inter Milan 2, Olympique de Marseille, 1 (agg, 2-2, Marseille win on away goal)
Inter Milan goal keeper Julio Cesar held Marseille scoreless for 90 minutes, but in injury time his Brazilian countryman Brandao scored the pivotal away goal breaking hearts all over the San Siro. The 2010 UCL Champs looked like they were on their way to the next round after a Diego Milito close range strike in the 75th to take the late lead. Blame it on Inter’s awareness or just poor defending, Marseille took advantage of the late opportunity as Brandao provided himself enough space to slide one in for the winner. Still hustling to comeback with no time left, Inter gained a consolation goal on a penalty kick from Paolo Pazzini. Even with the Inter PK, Marseille won on away goals and while happy about their advancement, the win came on a sour note. The red card on keeper Steve Mandanda would leave him out of the next round, debilitating their defense against a lineup of clubs with superstar strikers. If the final eight draw goes their way, the French club may have a chance to move on.
Real Madid 4, CSKA Moscow 1 (agg, 5-2)
Moscow pulled the shocking equalizer in the first leg, but that would only be a speed bump on Real Madrid’s quest to the final eight. Twenty-six minutes from the first whistle, Los Blancos took the lead when a Sami Khedira lob to Kaka resulted into an accurate ground cross to Gonzalo Higuain for the poacher. Cristiano Ronaldo got into the act as well scoring effortlessly in the 55th and 90th minutes while Karim Benzema, returning from injury, grabs a goal (“70) after getting his own rebound. Moscow’s Zoran Tosic prevented the shutout with an impressive crossbar clanking goal in the 77th, a highlight unfortunately dimmed by the scoreline. Real Madrid moved on with ease yet the main concern for Jose Mourinho and company is can they finally get through their rivals Barcelona to win it all?
Chelsea 4 Napoli 1 (agg, 5-4 Chelsea)
If you watched the first leg, a comeback didn’t seem likely. Yet after Arsenal almost achieving the impossible last week, a 3-1 deficit seemed attainable. New Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo tweaked the lineup in this second leg matchup against Napoli to positive results for the English club. Twenty-six minutes in Didier Drogba’s horizontal diving header ignited the crowd’s comeback as the Ivory Coast international played energized the entire time. Scoring from a corner right after the half, Chelsea captain John Terry’s header equalized (“47) Napoli on aggregate. The Italian side’s furious attempts at goal were thwarted but finally rewarded when Gokhan Inler took advantage of a weak Terry clearance to regain the lead in the 55th. The lead would only last for 20 minutes until a Napoli handball resulted in a 75th minute penalty strike from Frank Lampard to leave both teams equal. Extra time was needed to decide Chelsea’s fate and Branislav Ivanovic delivered with a 105th minute scoop into the net after Drogba slid a cross into the box. A well deserved scrappy win by the London team, who have pulled a definitive turnaround in a season thought to be over.