Across the pond, the UEFA Champions League is perhaps one of the biggest annual sporting competitions. However, here in the US, the competition is widely unknown due to the complicated nature of qualification, the duration of the tournament, and the fact that there's really nothing comparable in the four major American sports.
As we approach the second leg of the Round of 16, here are five headers about the upcoming March matches:
- All told, 78 teams participate in the Champions League spanning 53 different countries with the clubs entering at different stages based on their method of qualification. As the name suggestions, those 78 clubs have been whittled down to just 16; three each from Spain and England, two from Germany and Italy, as well as one from Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, and Ukraine. During earlier stages of the competition, teams from the same country can't be drawn against one another, but once you reach what is referred to as the knockout stage, all bets are off.
- At this point in the competition, often the small clubs have been eliminated, although occasionally a smaller club such as Basel (Switzerland) in 2014-15 or Olympiacos (Greece) in 2013-14 can make it this far due to a favorable group in the prior stage. This season, the closest thing to a small club would be either PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) or Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine). In the knockout stage, the teams play each other in home-and-away series with an aggregate score between the two matches determining the outcome. While Kyiv faces a tough challenge after falling behind to powerhouse Manchester City (England) 1-3, Eindhoven's cinderella story continues after a nil-to-nil draw against Atlético Madrid (Spain).
- Unfortunately, the Champions League can tend to be repetitive. Real Madrid (Spain) has made it to the final four in each of the last five competitions along with Barcelona (Spain) and Bayern Munich (Germany) who have each reached the semifinals four times. Additionally, those three squads combined to win four of the five of those competitions and are all still alive in the 2015-16 Champions League with Bayern being the only team not to come out of the first leg with a lead after a 2-2 draw against Juventus (Italy).
- Generally considered a footballing powerhouse, England has put together some surprisingly poor performances in European competitions. Since Chelsea won their first ever Champions League title in 2011-12, only one English side has made it past the quarterfinals. The disappointing run of form looks like it will continue this year as both Arsenal and Chelsea are trailing after the first leg.
- There should be some exciting matches around the corner for any type of game you'd like to watch. If you are looking for a one-sided goal fest, Manchester City is already up 3-1 over Dynamo Kyiv and should be able to score goals at will when they meet Mar. 15. On that same day, you can find a defensive affair as PSV Eindhoven and Atlético Madrid failed to score in their first leg, a 0-0 draw, with both teams playing a ball-control style that plays out as more of a chess match. For the match of the round, look no further than Juventus against Bayern Munich as the German giants face off Mar. 16 against the Italian side who lost in the 2014-15 Champions League final to Barcelona. The teams drew 2-2 in the first leg and will highlight everything fans enjoy watching in a soccer match during their deciding tilt.
No matter if you are a lifelong soccer fan or just a newbie looking to get into the sport, the Champions League showcases the best players and clubs in the world. Matchdays for the Round of 16 span the weekend of Mar. 8-9 and 15-16 and are well worth 90 minutes of your time.