Barcelona, Real Madrid Top Ranking of 8 Champions League Quarterfinalists

Tony MabertContributor IMarch 15, 2012

Barcelona, Real Madrid Top Ranking of 8 Champions League Quarterfinalists

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    The lineup for this season's Champions League quarterfinals is now set, and it doesn't quite look as many would have expected at the start of the season. 

    Certainly, if you asked all but the most fervent supporter of APOEL Nicosia, they would not have predicted that a campaign which began in the early qualifying rounds would still be going in April.

    The Cypriot side will be rubbing shoulders with such greats of the game as Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Bayern Munich when the draw for the last eight is made this Friday at UEFA headquarters in Nyon.

    Arsenal exiting in the last 16 and the two Manchester clubs' elimination at the group stage means that Chelsea are the only Premier League still involved.

    Marseille and Benfica (both former winners themselves) make up an intriguing draw in which seven different nations are represented.

    Here is a rundown of how each of the teams in this octet rank against each other.

8. APOEL Nicosia

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    So, the Cypriot fairytale continues for at least two more matches. APOEL Nicosia became the first side from the divided island to reach the last eight of Europe's premier club competition after a nerve-shredding win on penalties against Lyon.

    The cynic could argue that APOEL have had luck on their side this season, and it is hard to argue. They faced a Lyon side that is a pale imitation of that which dominated French football in the last decade and were blessed with a very kind draw in the group stage, while their qualifying fixtures pitted them against teams from Albania, Slovakia and Poland. 

    Their squad full of journeymen has been worth far more than the sum of its parts in Europe this season but, on paper at least, they are the worst team in the competition and remain firm underdogs against whoever they face. But then, that's just how they like it.

7. Marseille

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    Marseille are at something of a low ebb at the moment. After leading them to the Ligue 1 title in 2010, this season Didier Deschamps has presided over the French Riviera club slumping to their current eighth position in the table, 19 points off leaders Paris St-Germain.

    Despite that, they find themselves in the latter stages of the competition, though only by winning narrowly on away goals to an Inter Milan side toiling every bit as much as Marseille this term.

    A major blow for OM is that goalkeeper Steve Mandanda—arguably their standout performer in this season's competition—is suspended for the first leg of their quarterfinal after he was sent off in stoppage time against Inter. But, even with Mandanda in the side, it is hard to see them progressing through to the semis.

6. Benfica

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    Benfica engineered a good comeback to reach the quarterfinals. After losing their first leg away at Zenit St Petersburg 3-2, the Portuguese club won 2-0 at the Estadio da Luz to qualify for the last eight.

    They certainly have pedigree in the competition, having won it twice in the 1960s and also finished as runner-up a further five times, most recently in 1990.

    The Lisbon club are currently second in the Portuguese league having only lost two matches all season, and one of those was to leaders Porto.

    The attacking thrust of Oscar Cardozo and guile of Pablo Aimar and Nicolas Gaitan will ask questions of any defence—just ask Manchester United—but it would be something of a surprise to see them prevail against one of the very top sides still left in the competition.

5. Chelsea

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    Chelsea's comeback to overcome Napoli in extra time was about as thrilling as it has gotten in this year's competition. 

    No doubt interim manager Roberto Di Matteo will be telling the players that such a result—making it three wins out of three for the Italian's time in charge—can be the springboard that launches them on to great things this season.

    But, when the euphoria of that 4-1 win has died down, Chelsea still have the look of a side that faces a fight to even qualify for next year's Champions League via their domestic position, let alone by lifting the trophy in May.

4. AC Milan

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    They may not be quite the proposition they were when they won the competition twice and reached another final over the past decade, but only a fool would completely discount Milan from the equation altogether.

    The Rossoneri look favourites to retain their Serie A title, and they finally got a monkey off their back by beating English opposition at the last 16 stage for the first time in four years.

    However, they almost contrived to relinquish a four-goal lead from the first leg of their tie with Arsenal, and the significant yet erratic brilliance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Co. are unlikely enough to see them topple either of the Spanish giants to win the trophy.

3. Bayern Munich

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    Bayern have endured a real topsy-turvy season, veering from their indomitable best to their abject worst at times this season. A return of 14 goals in their last two games is an emphatic return to the former.

    With the duo nicknamed "Robbery"—Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery—and striker Mario Gomez all looking fearsome at the moment, the Bavarian giants look equipped to give even the best sides a real game.

    Plus, aside from a contingent of young stars who have emerged or been bought over the past two seasons, Bayern still have many of the players who reached the 2010 final on their books.

2. Real Madrid

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    In his second season at the Bernabeu, Jose Mourinho has made Real Madrid a more cohesive and effective unit than at any time in recent memory.

    Unlike a typical Mourinho side, however, they have not compromised at all on attacking intent. So far this season they have scored 130 goals with Cristiano Ronaldo netting 38 of those.

    Mourinho has won the Champions League with two different clubs from different countries. He now has a side capable of completing what would be a historic treble.

1. Barcelona

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    They may be 10 points behind Real in La Liga, seemingly set to relinquish their Spanish title, but Barcelona still have the number of their great rivals whenever they come face to face.

    Barca have only lost to Los Merengues once in their last 14 meetings, last season's Copa del Rey final. That run stretches back to May 2008, almost four years ago.

    Even Mourinho's side have been unable to find a way of containing Lionel Messi, who remains the world's best player despite Cristiano Ronaldo's best efforts.

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