Europe’s current elite 16 clubs will find out their fates when the draw is made for the first round of the Champions League knockout stages on Thursday morning.
The eight group winners from the opening stage will be drawn against the runners-up, with the only proviso being that teams from the same country cannot be paired together.
That means that England’s only remaining representatives, Manchester United and Arsenal, will be kept apart. That will come as a relief to the Premier League, which in past seasons has dominated the competition’s latter stages but has gradually seen its influence wane of late.
Premier League champions Manchester City and Champions League holders Chelsea were both eliminated from the group stage.
There is no doubt that Spain has become Europe’s dominant nation as testified by all four of their sides—Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Malaga—making it through to the last 16. Germany is also solid as they are represented strongly by Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, while there is also a sign of some of Europe’s emerging clubs like Shakhtar Donetsk and Paris Saint-Germain.
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Unlike in previous seasons, winning your group is no guarantee of a simpler passage to the quarterfinals. There is little doubt that Madrid is the team to avoid in the runners-up pot for the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Madrid, of course, will also want to avoid such titanic matchups at this stage of the competition. Of the group winners, perhaps Schalke and Paris Saint-Germain will be the teams they will secretly be hoping to be drawn against.
Another underdog in the group-winners pot, Malaga have proven to be one of the best stories of the competition so far. The Spanish giants have exceeded expectations following a beginning to the season that was overshadowed by financial troubles and saw the loss of key players Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon.
Celtic have also been something of a surprise package, having qualified courtesy of a memorable win over Barcelona.
Group winners: Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United.
Group runners-up: Porto, Arsenal, Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray.
Where to watch: The UEFA Champiosn League draw gets underway at 5.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available via Fox Soccer 2Go.