Champions League: German Final Dream Still on as Bayern and Schalke Draw Well
Arguably the most compelling narrative of the 2012-13 Champions League has been the rampant success of Bundesliga teams on Europe's elite stage.
Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke made history as all three German representatives not only advanced to the knockout rounds, but did so after winning their respective groups.
Every draw is a nail-biter, though, even for elite teams. But fortune favored Germany's Champions League teams as Bayern, Schalke and Dortmund all drew manageable opposition in the Round of 16.
The headline tie will be Bayern vs Arsenal. The Gunners are no strangers to Champions League knockout play, having reached the Round of 16 for 13 consecutive seasons. It's been the better part of a decade, however, since Arsene Wenger's side looked to be worthy of the semi-finals.
A year ago, Robin van Persie might have offered hope that the north London side would conjure some magic. But in the Dutchman's absence, hopes cannot be very high.
Bayern are arguably the envy of Europe in midfield and attack, and have reached two Champions League finals in three years. They are experienced, coherent, and with a mostly consistent squad have won many games at the highest level. Bottom line: If Reading can put seven past his side in two games, Wenger will cringe at the damage Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery & co. can do.
Dortmund were drawn with trickier and more dangerous opposition in the form of Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian side played extremely well in the first half of the group stage and stunned Chelsea and Juventus as the first to qualify for the second stage from their group.
In the end, they took only four out of 12 possible points against the English and Italian giants, losing to Juve at home in the final matchday as they finished group runners-up.
Shakhtar are not burdened with expectation, however, and following their strong group stage performance, BVB have been rated as one of the top sides remaining in the competition.
The German champions will be tipped as favorites to win, which puts them in an altogether different position than they have enjoyed in the competition thus far. In previous years, the burden of expectation proved too much. Now they will hope their experience will overcome their nerves.
The final German team to consider is the biggest wild card, Schalke. The Gelsenkirchen side will face Galatasaray, who finished behind Manchester United and ahead of Braga and Cluj in Group H.
Some have labeled the Turks the weakest of the last 16, but they beat Man Utd at home and were very unlucky not to take a point at Old Trafford. In terms of squad quality they leave something to be desired. They've shown heart and fighting spirit, though, which as Celtic and Dortmund have shown is worth just as much as individual class.
Schalke are currently in crisis, and would greatly struggle against Gala if the Round of 16 were held before the month's end. The winter break will do them well, though, as they adjust to life under interim coach Jens Keller.
Two months remain before the Champions League resumes, and if Keller can get his side anywhere near the heights they achieved in September and October, they will advance quite comfortably. It won't be easy, but at least Schalke weren't drawn with a team like Shakhtar or Real Madrid.
Overall, Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke can be pleased with their respective draws. Either Bayern or Schalke could have been paired with Real Madrid, but weren't. Dortmund got perhaps their toughest possible opponents, but will like their odds of advancing.
Bundesliga teams have taken the Champions League by storm this season, and each has been rewarded with a very good chance of advancing to the last eight. From there, anything can happen.
There's still a long way to go for Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke, but they've overcome all obstacles thus far, and following the draw it can be concluded that their fate is decidedly in their own hands. Maybe, just maybe, we'll see history made in May with an all-German final.
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