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INSIGHT: Famous past encounters add spice to CL semi-final draw

INSIGHT: Famous past encounters add spice to CL semi-final draw

REAL Madrid’s Champions League pedigree is such that the ten-time European champions have faced each of their potential semi-final opponents this season — Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus — at this stage of the competition at least once since the European Cup was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992.

Having claimed the much-vaunted ‘Decima’ last season, this year Carlo Ancelotti’s side are out to claim the ‘Undecima’ and become the first side in the history of the Champions League to win back-to-back titles.

A late goal by Javier Hernandez at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday sealed Real’s passage to the last four as they overcame city rivals Atletico Madrid 1-0 over two legs.

And ahead of Friday’s semi-final draw, Real captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas predicted some exciting semi-final clashes.

“We’re talking about four European champions, four top teams,” he said after making his 150th appearance in the competition. “Of the most recent semi-finals, they’re the most even. The semi-finals are going to be exciting, really special, and we’ll play whoever is put in front of us.”

Maybe Casillas’ expectation stems from the fact that Real’s past semi-final encounters with the sides they can be possibly be drawn against on Friday have generated quite a lot of excitement.

They’ve clashed with German powerhouses Bayern in the semi-finals twice in the last three seasons and four times overall. Last season, Real thrashed Pep Guardiola’s side 5-0 on aggregate en route to winning the final in Lisbon against Atletico but the other three ties have been tighter affairs.

They met twice in two years at the start of this century, with the winner of the semi-final going on to win the title. Real beat Bayern 3-2 on aggregate in 2000 before Bayern avenged that defeat 12 months later with a 3-1 aggregate triumph. Nicolas Anelka was the star of the first meeting, netting in each leg for Real with Giovane Elber doing the same a year later for Bayern.

It then took 11 years for Real and Bayern to clash again in the semi-finals with their clash in 2012 needing penalties to decide the winner after a 3-3 aggregate draw. Bayern prevailed 3-1 in the shootout but their hammering by Real last season, which saw Ancelotti’s side thrash them 4-0 at home, would’ve left them seeking retribution.

Bayern made the semi-finals with a rip-roaring 6-1 second leg thrashing of FC Porto at their Allianz Arena but that came after they were humbled 3-1 by the Portuguese in the first leg.

“Everyone’s hoping for the Champions League final, but it won’t be easy and there’s still work to do,” noted former Bayern striker Roy Makaay in an interview with the club website on Thursday.

Like their semi-final clashes with Bayern, Real’s last-four ties with arch-rivals Barca are also tied with both teams having won a match each. The Champions League saw its first ‘El Clasico’ in 2002 with a Zinedine Zidane curler and a delightful Steve McManaman chip gave them a 2-0 first leg win at the Nou Camp.

The return leg ended 1-1 as Real went on to claim their ninth European Cup crown.

Barca had their revenge in 2011 when Lionel Messi’s sensational double at the Santiago Bernabeu sent the Catalans on their way to a 2-0 first leg win before a 1-1 draw in the return.

This season, Luis Enrique’s side are big favourites to win the title especially after they cruised to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Paris St Germain in the quarter-finals.

“It’s important for the club to be in the semi-finals,” Barca midfielder Javier Mascherano said as they made their seventh semi-final in eight seasons. “It may sound easy, but it isn’t. We’re two games from another Champions League final and hopefully the next round is ours.”

Juve are the side Barca, Bayern and Real would most likely want to face in the semi-finals as the Italian heavyweights make their first last-four appearance since 2003 after grinding out a 1-0 win over AS Monaco over two legs.

A draw against Real would mean a repeat of the semi-final 12 years ago for the Turin giants when they advanced to the final — which they lost to AC Milan on penalties — after a 4-3 aggregate win courtesy a stunning second leg performance at the Stadio Delle Alpi.

Juve have since shifted to their Juventus Stadium but that famous win over Real at the Delle Alpi is vividly remembered. Real went into the second leg 2-1 up from the first but first-half goals by David Trezeguet and Alessandro Del Piero put them in control of the tie before a sublime run and volley by Pavel Nedved sealed their progression.

They might be underdogs as they look to reassert themselves in Europe after a decade of relative mediocrity but Juve hold no fear.

“Only the best are left in the competition but I don’t fear any of them,” said midfielder Arturo Vidal after the goalless second leg against Monaco on Wednesday with his first-leg penalty deciding the tie. “We’ll just wait and see who we get. We’re relaxed about it.”

Juve have never faced Barca or Bayern at this stage of the Champions League but Bayern and Barca met two years ago with the Germans winning a whopping 7-0 on aggregate.

The business end of Europe’s premier club competition will definitely be exciting.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2015

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