Three semifinal regulars are joined by a new face eager to upset more of Europe’s elite when the draw for the last four of the Champions League is made on Friday.
Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Atletico Madrid each had their place in doubt until the dying embers of their quarterfinal ties and will now be desperate to go one stage further and reach the final in Lisbon on May 24.
Holders Bayern Munich were the only side to come out on top in their quarterfinal tie by more than a one-goal margin, yet were given an unexpectedly difficult time by a struggling Manchester United side. Indeed, Patrice Evra’s goal in the second leg in Munich for the briefest of times had the Premier League side going through before three goals turned the tie decisively in Bayern’s favor to take them though to their fourth semifinal in five years.
Real Madrid are in their fourth consecutive semifinal, but so nearly threw away their hopes of claiming their much coveted La Decima this season. Leading 3-0 from the first leg, Borussia Dortmund gave them a real scare with a 2-0 win in the Spanish capital and missed several chances to level the tie up. While their attack is perhaps the most feared around the continent, with a front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Carlo Ancelotti side’s less than convincing defending remains the biggest hurdle to their ambitions.
The opposite is true for Chelsea, although the story of their season was bizarrely reversed in their quarterfinal with Paris Saint-Germain. After Chelsea’s usually impregnable defense made three errors to gift the Ligue 1 leaders a 3-1 advantage from their first leg, one of their much-maligned strikers, Demba Ba, came to the rescue in the final minutes at Stamford Bridge to send his side through on away goals. The winners in 2012, and Europe League champions from last season, are in there seventh Champions League final in 11 years, while their manager Jose Mourinho is in his fifth in a row with three different clubs.
The newcomers to the party then are Atletico Madrid. It has been 40 years since the club which are perennially overshadowed by their local rivals, who just happen to be the most successful team in the competition’s history, reached Europe’s last four. And it is not so long ago that Atletico were on their knees, stumbling from one hapless mess to another. But Diego Simeone, part of the last Atletico side to reach the last eight of the Champions League in 1997, has overseen an incredible turnaround since taking charge in 2011.
After winning the Europa League a year later and the Copa del Rey last season, Simeone’s reign reached new heights with a fully-deserved 2-1 aggregate win over Barcelona. While they may be the outsiders, the intensity, and no little quality of their play means it would be foolish in the extreme to write off their chances of going all the way.
The semifinal ties will be played on April 22-23 and April 29-30.
Where to watch: The Champions League semifinal draw will get underway from Nyon, Switzerland at 6 a.m. ET. A live stream will be provided by Uefa.com.