March 19, 2010
Posted: 1354 GMT
Ok, so the quarterfinals of the European Champions League have been - via a typically protracted, media-driven ceremony - drawn. We now know which powerhouses of soccer will clash, and the path that must be navigated to be crowned kings of Europe and winners of the most lucrative club competition in world football.
Now onto the next task ... predicting who will beat who and which team will emerge with the large-handled trophy held aloft. The realm of prediction is dangerous ground for journalists who earn their money through their knowledge and reporting of fact. All manner of dark arts are required to insure that, come the day of the final on 22 May, the prediction that has been written in black and white does not look silly.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread as the saying goes, so here is this journalist's thought on what will happen and why. First up, the all-France tie of Lyon against Bordeaux. Two well-matched sides on the surface but having seen Lyon fell the giants of Real Madrid the feeling in my stomach says Lyon will edge it.
English champions Manchester United take on Bayern Munich of Germany in the next tie. Both teams are in good form and have a stellar array of stars, however - as demonstrated in the famous final of 1999 - superstition is the key factor that decides the winner between these auld enemies.
United are chasing an unprecedented fourth title defense at home and a unique third consecutive appearance in a European Cup final in 2010. Ferguson is not a man often denied and Bayern fans will be still be haunted by that agonizing loss a decade ago when the pressure is on. Fergie's hat-trick of European Cups could come in the same season that he has a chance to overturn Liverpool's record of English titles and surpass the record held by Matt Busby for years in charge of the Old Trafford club. The Red Devils will advance.
For these reasons United will not only beat Bayern but progress past Lyon to the Bernabeu-hosted final. But who will be their opposition?
Arsenal must beat the awe-inspiring Barcelona side led by Pep Guardiola to progress, a feat that will be beyond the Gunners. Lionel Messi is at the peak of his game, Arsenal's defense has proved leaky against top-flight opposition but the crucial factor here is Thierry Henry. Arsene Wenger is confident ahead of the game and he is not often wrong about selling players at the apposite time, however, the soothsayer in me says the footballing Gods will see Henry triumph over his former boss.
Which leaves Inter Milan against CSKA Moscow - a clean cut result. Jose Mourinho is too canny an operator to be outsmarted by the last-eight newcomers. The sparkle in the "Special One's" eyes after beating his old club Chelsea says that Inter will go far this year.
It means an enticing clash between Barca and Inter is in the offering for the second semifinal. The telling information needed to pick the winner of this match-up are the personal histories involved. Mourinho faces another former employer carrying good form in this respect, hit-man Samuel Eto'o plays against the club that sold him and Barca have the pressure of following the treble-winning season of 2009. Inter win, no doubt.
So the final will be against Mourinho's Inter and Ferguson's Manchester United, interesting in as much that Mourinho would surely jump at the chance to replace Fergie at Old Trafford when the Scot retires and the Scot, if my hunch is correct, will not retire until he has won three European Cups. It's all based on speculation of course but there's a feeling in the bones that Ferguson will get the crescendo finish to his managerial career he seeks.
United crowned champions then ... how could anyone disagree with such a scientific approach?