Champions League breakdown and predictions

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

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Last Tuesday was a special day for soccer fans. It was the first day of the round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. The entire tournament showcases the most skilled and dynamic teams that professional “football” has to offer. The group stages are great, but only half of the teams competing go on, with the top two teams moving on from each of the eight groups.

What makes this tournament interesting is that it isn’t a bracket style. There are live draws to ensure that your next opponent is completely random. That’s how it is for the round of 16 teams. Of all the teams that went on in the tournament, their club name would be drawn from a bowl to determine who they play. The round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals are all played on aggregate, a home and away series of two games, away goals being the tiebreaker.

Now that that’s all out of the way, what went down in the round of 16 first leg?

AS Roma (Italy) hosted FC Porto (Portugal) to kick things off, and it did so in an exciting way. The first half played out to a 0-0 draw, but it was the second where the drama came in. All three goals were scored in under nine minutes from one another. Nicolo Zaniolo struck first to open the scoring and then doubled the lead all by himself only three minutes later. Porto would respond, but Adrian’s goal in the 79th minute proved to be too little, too late as his side fell 2-1 while away.

That same day was Manchester United (England) hosting Paris Saint Germain (France). This, in my opinion, is the most exciting draw of this round. With PSG’s exciting front three of Neymar, Edison Cavani and Kylian Mbappe going up against the likes of Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, David Degea, there is absolutely no lack of talent. It was PSG getting on the board first from 23-year-old Presnel Kimpembe in the 53rd minute. Nineteen year-old Mbappe doubled their lead seven minutes later. Ending the game, though, was Pogba picking up his second yellow card of the match, leading to a red and his ban from the second leg. This one should be interesting.

Matchday two kicked off with Ajax (Netherlands) playing host to Real Madrid (Spain). Madrid holds the record for the most Champions League titles with 13, but with the transfer of Christiano Ronaldo (aka Mr. Champions League), they will be wondering if they still have it in them to make it 14. Spoiler alert: they do. Karim Benzema scored first for Madrid in the 60th minute but Ajax would respond 15 minutes later to tie the game and make their opposition sweat a little. Ajax hearts were broken though as Marco Asensio scored a late 87th minute dagger to escape Amsterdam with a 2-1 victory.

The other match of the day was the Tottenham Hotspurs (England) hosting Borussia Dortmund (Germany) at their temporary home of Wembley Stadium while their home pitch White Hart Lane continues renovations. Some people say that the Spurs have the best striker in the world in Harry Kane; I’m not one of those people. His side still shutout Dortmund 3-0 but not with his help. Three second half goals from Son Heung-Min, Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente lifted the English side past the German giants.

Matchday three saw to be relatively boring as both games played out to 0-0 draws. Liverpool (England) hosted FC Bayern (Germany) at Anfield back on Tuesday. Liverpool made it to the Champions League final last year, only to fall to Real Madrid, but I have them getting back there this year. Liverpool had the majority of the possession during the match but were unable to put one in the back of the net. Luckily for them, neither was Robert Lewondowski and FC Bayern. It will take a great effort for Liverpool to beat Bayern at Allianz Arena, one of the hardest places to play in the world.

The other match was a real shocker. My favorite team FC Barcelona (Spain) traveled to Olympique Lyonnais (France) but were unable to break the deadlock. This result completely baffled me. How does the best player in the world Lionel Messi get shutout? I didn’t get to watch this one, but shout out to Lyon’s defense for shutting down not only Messi, but Dembele, Suarez and Rakitic. It’s one thing to shutout FC Barcelona at home, but it’s a completely different task to go in and blank them at Camp Nou.

Matchday four saw the most goals being scored in some exhilarating matchups. First up was Atletico Madrid (Spain) hosting Juventus (Italy). Juve is one of the most exciting teams to watch right now with pairing Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, but they were blanked 2-0 while away. Two second half goals from Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin sealed the deal as Atletico takes a nice lead into Italy.

The final match of the bunch saw Schalke 04 (Germany) host Manchester City (England). Man City has the best striker in the world, Sergio Aguero. He scored first in the 18th minute, but this game was far from over. Schalke were awarded two penalties in the 38th and 45th minute, and they cashed in on both to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. A late comeback began in the 85th minute from Leroy Sane. Five minutes later, Raheem Sterling regained the lead in dramatic style, to ensure the 3-2 comeback victory.

So, who am I picking to make it into quarterfinals? Most of these are pretty easy.

I think FC Porto will win at home and go through on away goals. I don’t see PSG choking away a 2-0 lead at home. I also don’t see Tottenham losing a three-goal lead, even though Dortmund is a hard place to play. Real Madrid will go on because of course they will. FC Barcelona will win at home and go through. Liverpool will “upset” FC Bayern on the road and go on. I think Ronaldo and Juventus will come back from the 2-0 loss and move on and lastly, I don’t see Manchester City losing at home.

The eight best clubs in the world will go on, but which of the eight will make it all the way? We’ll all find out in two weeks’ time as the second legs for all these matches begin March 5.

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