The draw for the first knockout stage of the 2012-2013 UEFA Champions League went down on December 20. The takeaway from that whole awkward dog-and-pony show was a slew of firecracking ties for football mavens to nerd out to.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Same as it ever was.
As an aside, back in late July, an intrepid football writer attempted to predict the last 16, prior to the group stage draw. He managed to get 12 out of 16 correct—with honorable mentions to three out of the other four clubs that qualified (apologies to Hoops fans everywhere).
Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund side all but cheated the Group of Death.
The Dortmunders slalomed their way through Group D, amassing the second-best record in the group stages (only PSG had more points—15 to BD's 14).
Presently, Dortmund are the darlings of Europe with three players in full Gangnam mode: Robert Lewandowski (15 goals, seven assists in all competitions) Mario Gotze (11 goals, five assists) and Marco Reus (10 goals, six assists).
Defensively, BVB boast three of Bundesliga's most intelligent defenders in Mats Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek (Poland) and Neven Subotic (Serbia).
The oddsmakers recognize Dortmund's exquisite quality, making them 7-1 favorites across the board to win the competition—only Bayern, Real Madrid and Barca have better probabilities.
Dortmund has the ability to capture the imaginations of neutrals with their bright, attacking brand of play but there's just something about those black-and-orange kits of Shakhtar Donetsk that conjure up visions of feisty tiger cubs.
There's also the Donbass Seleção contingent with six regulars from Brazil and three alternates.
SD arguably have one of the better midfields in Europe.The expressive Willian has been the star throughout the CL campaign (four goals, two assists) but domestically, Armenian partner Henrik Mkhitaryan has provided the lethal finishing (18 goals, six assists in the UPL, two goals in CL).
Alex Teixiera (another Boss Nova boy) has had some success at home (eight goals in the Ukrainian Premier League) and in Europe (two goals and one assist). Fernandinho and Douglas Costa bring flair and precision while Tomáš Hübschman (Czech Republic) is an experienced anchorman.
The Shak Attack (a bit easy, granted, but those Ukrainians just love them some Kazaam) has some good options upfront in Luiz Adriano (three goals, two assists in the CL), Marko Devic and Eduardo (yes, that Eduardo).
The back line is bolstered by the experienced flank play of captain Dario Srnja (Croatia) and Ravzan Rat (Romania).
Shakhtar's unique makeup and identity are reasons neutrals will gravitate to this side. Their ascendancy through Europe is nothing short of remarkable.
Yes, having the 26th-wealthiest man in the world as your chairman (Rinat Akhmetov) makes winning a UEFA Cup (as it did in 2009) a possibility.
But bankrolls alone do not allow a team from a hinterland league to reach the last eight of the world's most prestigious club competition (in 2010-2011, SD beat Roma in the Round of 16 before falling dreadfully to Barcelona in the quarterfinal).
The first leg of the tie will be February 13, 2013, in Donetsk. The Donbass Arena hasn't seen this caliber of match since the nerve-wracking Euro 2012 semifinal that saw Spain outlast Portugal on penalties.
Let's keep in mind it's going to be cold for this one, as in Russian winter cold. This should favor the homestanding side though most Germans have ice water in their bloodstream—only a minor advantage to Shakhtar there.
Even though Shakhtar will be tight in front of their home supporters, the goals are bound to come. Borussia Dortmund scored seven goals away from Signal Iduna Park in the group stage.
SD was also more prolific in front of goal on the road (eight goals compared to four at home) but with so many attacking options on the pitch, we're willing to bet a DAB pint or two that there's going to be at least three in this one.
1st Leg Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 2, Borussia Dortmund 2
BVB were a perfect 3-0 at home in the group stages; their 2-1 victory over Real Madrid was considered a warning shot to the field.
These bumblebee-lookin' Germans got some poison in their sting.
They have lost twice on the home ground this season (to Schalke and, rather embarrassingly, to Wolfsburg). Among those two blemishes were a 5-nil dismissal of Monchengladbach and a 3-0 walkover against Leverkusen.
One overall consideration for the tie will center around match readiness. The Bundesliga's winter break ends January 19 while the Ukrainian Premier League will be on winter hiatus until March 3.
Clear edge to Borussia Dortmund on the fitness tip.
These statistics and analyses amount to a bunch of humbug come the opening match whistle but hey, it's the Internet, there's unlimited bandwidth for this sort of thing.
Expect a Lewandowski brace in a wild one.
2nd Leg Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 4, Shakhtar Donetsk 2
Aggregate: Borussia Dortmund (6), Shakhtar Donetsk (4)