Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Yippee, Its the Champions League Last 16!

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the commencement of what can be called the Business End of the Football season. Pull up your armchairs, listen for the stirring tones of everyone’s favourite Eurochoir and prepare for dollops of Glamour, Excitement and Messages from our Sponsors.

It’s the last 16 of the Champions League, in case you hadn’t guessed.

European football’s top table dons napkins and prepares to nosh down on the feast it began preparing last July, filleting over the ensuing months the gristle of the continent’s minnows: unwanted offal from Albania, Armenia, Ireland and Iceland; indigestible innards from Faroes, Finland, Malta and Macedonia.

Since the discarding of the unwieldy second group stage for the 2003-04 season, the last 16 has been a much more interesting proposition – knockout football worthy of excitement and interest after the chilling winter of the domestic grind. As such it is always an enlightening snapshot of European club football, and how the balance of power lies.


'02 '03 '04 '05 '06 Total
Eng 3 3 3 4 3 16
Spa 3 4 4 2 3 16
Ita 2 4 2 3 3 14
Ger 2 2 2 3 2 11
Fra 1 0 2 2 1 6
Por 2 0 1 1 1 5
Hol 0 1 0 1 2 4
Rus 0 1 1 0 0 2
Czh 1 0 1 0 0 2
Sco 0 0 0 0 1 1
Swz 0 1 0 0 0 1
Tur 1 0 0 0 0 1
Gre 1 0 0 0 0 1

Taking the last five years into account (as UEFA does for coefficient purposes) the overall picture is entirely predictable: England and Spain, closely followed by Italy, then Germany, occupy the vast majority of last 16 places. English clubs have been the most consistent of the top nations, never having less than three places in the last 16, while Spain’s anomalous 2005 campaign, when poor Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia teams failed to make the cut, is all that prevents them from assuming top spot.

As for Europe’s smaller leagues, the remaining places are scattered amongst them like so many crumbs from the big boys’ table. 2002 was a relatively halcyon year for the minnows, with the Panathanaikos, Galatasary, Sparta Prague and two Portuguese teams (Porto and Boavista) bustling into the big time. If anything, the past two seasons has seen consolidation of power amongst the stronger leagues. In 2005 Porto and PSV Eindhoven were the only qualifiers outside the Big Four and their lesser adjunct, France, while this year, Rangers, PSV and Ajax find themselves as the sole standard bearers for the continents less glamourous outposts.

A look at some of the names of four or five years ago can feel like examining the names of FA Cup finalists of the Victorian era: for Wanderers, Old Carthusians and Royal Engineers, read Nantes, Panathanaikos, Basle,and indeed Newcastle, clubs who were only admitted to the VIP area on guest passes.

The mouthwatering nature of this year’s second round fixture list attests to the fact that, aside from the odd gatecrasher, this is a more exclusive party than ever.

2 Comments:

Blogger Victoria Derbyshire said...

Tom-

sorry for not replying on your previous thread-been VERY busy[you know how it is}-but -as you say-its Champions League time again and I hope those huns get fucked[you WILL keep this to yourself?]-sorry -I just can,t help myself sometimes......

ciao for now.

Victoria.

10:14 p.m.  
Blogger DrCelt said...

Don't we all dear

9:15 a.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home