Champions League: Ranking the Remaining 8 Teams
So, after a frantic series of games, we've got down to the final eight in the Champions League.
It's one of the most varied set of clubs that have reached this stage for quite a while, with seven countries represented among the remaining teams.
Before the draw for both the quarter and semifinals takes place on Friday, let's rank the sides that will be in the pot so we can get a better idea of who might go the distance in this year's competition.
8: APOEL FC
APOEL's journey to the final eight has been a long one, starting in the early qualifying rounds of mid-July 2011.
If it was hard work to even get to the group stages, qualifying for not just for the first knockout round, but then subsequently for the quarterfinals, has been a minor miracle for APOEL.
They were battered in the first leg of their tie against Lyon, but somehow managed to escape from France with only a 1-0 defeat. After nicking a 1-0 win back in Cyprus in the second leg, they took the game to penalties and won the tie.
They don't have a billionaire backer. They don't really have any standout players, aside from maybe the likes of Esteban Solari. APOEL have got this far through almost sheer determination and a large dollop of luck.
Can they go any further?
Almost certainly not.
Of the eight teams that remain, they are by far the weakest. The only way they may progress is through being drawn against the likes of Marseille or Benfica. And even then, it's still highly likely that APOEL's European fairytale is about to end.
7: Olympique De Marseille
If one were to be extremely uncharitable, you could say that Marseille's presence in the quarterfinals is almost as unexpected as APOEL's.
Marseille have not been having a great season.
In France, they are way off the peace in Ligue Un, currently lying in eighth place.
In Europe, their form hasn't really been much better.
They scraped through to the knockout stages with two late and dramatic goals in the game against Dortmund.
They were then paired against an Inter side in disarray, and again on just made it through with a last minute goal in the San Siro that put the Milanese side out on away goals.
Unless they are drawn against the likes of APOEL or maybe Benfica, Marseille aren't going any further in this year's competition.
Benfica seemingly had an excellent opening round, unexpectedly winning a group which featured Manchester United, and not losing a game in the process.
Yet they also won that group by drawing with United twice, and only beating Basel once.
In short, they weren't really as dominant as the table might have suggested.
Then, in the round of 16, they lost to Zenit St Petersburg in Russia, before getting a win in Portugal that saw them through to the quarterfinals.
So, Benfica haven't really been that great this year.
And, unless they get a trip to Cyprus or France, they won't be troubling the semifinals this season.
Andre Villas-Boas is gone, and ultimately did little to revive the London team's ageing squad.
Roberto di Matteo has little experience of management at the highest level, and may find the tougher opposition of of the final stages of the Champions League too much.
In many respects, the two ties against Napoli highlight the best and the worst of this current Chelsea team.
They are defensively suspect, especially if John Terry is out of the side. But they still have quality players, who will fight to win the competition.
The likes of Drogba and Lampard rolled back the years in their performances in the second leg against Napoli, but how much do they have left in the tank?
I think Chelsea will put up a spirited performance against whoever they face in the quarterfinals, but I expect them to go out unless they get a favourable draw.
4: AC Milan
Milan are flying high at the top of Serie A at present, and will fancy their chances against almost anyone they face in the final eight.
Many expected their match against Arsenal to be a fairly close affair, but it was a goal-fest in which they blew away the Gunners in the first leg.
That tie showed the explosive power of this Milan side, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng taking Arsenal apart.
The second leg highlighted Milan's weaknesses, when they conspired to give away three goals in the first 45 minutes.
Yet, the Italian team dug in and managed to keep a clean sheet in the second half, which saw them through to the quarterfinals.
Milan will probably not win the competition this season, but could still be a nuisance in the final few stages.
And if Zlatan fancies it, they might just go all the way.
3: Bayern Munich
Munich may be trailing to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga at present, but they have been brilliant in Europe this season.
After being drawn with Napoli, Manchester City and Villareal, they promptly dominated the "Group of Death," losing only one game, a dead rubber against City.
They won all three of their matches in Munich, and continued their brilliant home form into the knockout stages with a thumping 7-0 victory over Basel.
Yes, it was only Basel. But the likes of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez, and Thomas Muller are a match for anyone on their day.
If the two remaining Spanish teams were to falter, it could well be Munich's year.
It's very hard to not make Barcelona favourites, but I think they will just fall just short in this year's competition.
They may be 16 points ahead of third placed Valencia, but Barca look destined to miss out on this year's La Liga title, as they currently lie ten points behind Real Madrid.
Barca have been brilliant this year, but one gets the feeling that they are not quite at the same level that they were last season.
Milan's 2-2 draw in the Nou Camp back in September shows that this team does have weaknesses which can be exploited by the very best teams in Europe.
Players like Messi, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas are among the best in the world.
But no team has ever retained the Champions League, and I don't think Barca will buck this trend this season.
1: Real Madrid
It's actually been quite a while since Madrid last won the Champions League.
You have to travel back to Hampden Park and Zinedine Zidane's wonder goal in 2002 to find the last time that Real won Europe's premier competition.
I think that this will be their season, quite simply because they are the strongest team remaining in the competition.
After a fair few years of frustration, Madrid will get the better of Barca in La Liga this season, and will also go further than their great rivals in Europe.
Jose Mourinho has built a team which has both defensive stability and attacking flair, with players like Ricardo Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all in great form.
Added to that is Mourinho's tactical nous. Pep Guardiola has had the better of Mourino in recent years, but I think he will finally get his tactics right this time around if the two Spanish teams do face-off.
And, if they don't, I would fancy Madrid to beat any of the other remaining six sides.
Conclusion: Madrid's Year?
So, the remaining teams can be roughly split as follows:
Three teams almost certain to go out: APOEL, Marseille and Benfica.
Three teams with an outside chance of glory: Chelsea, AC Milan and Bayern Munich.
Two teams which are likely to win the trophy: Barcelona and Real Madrid.
We've become so accustomed to seeing Barca defeat Madrid in recent years, it's easy to forget that the Madrid team at Mourinho's disposal is very, very good.
I think they will be crowned this season's victors.
It would be just Mourinho's style to win everythin at Real, and then walk out of the club this summer.
Much, however, depends on the draw.
Especially if Real and Barca get drawn together in the quarterfinals, a few of the other teams may quietly start fancying their chances of going all the way.
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