After group stage success forced the Bundesliga's glory-hungry trio to leave home for their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first legs, all three landed back in Germany satisfied, knowing they are halfway to achieving their target of a quarter-final spot.
No club had an easy trip, but a late-winter jaunt to FC Shakhtar Donetsk is no inviting prospect, as Tottenham Hotspur FC (a 2-0 UEFA Europa League defeat in February 2009) and AS Roma (a 3-0 loss in March 2011) learned the hard way. With injury and illness affecting the Borussia Dortmund squad before the fixture, the omens were not good, especially as the German champions fell behind twice.
However, BVB showed exactly the sort of maturity they were lacking in recent years, grinding out a result when not on top of the game to earn a 2-2 draw. In my book, they are pretty sure of going through, having performed well in the league lately (the Hamburger SV defeat excepted).
A match at Arsenal FC used to be something most teams feared, and last term AC Milan almost squandered a 4-0 lead there at this stage. Of 12 games in their own stadium against German sides, the Gunners had lost only two, but in a similar style to which they are dominating the Bundesliga, FC Bayern München went there full of confidence and were 1-0 up after just seven minutes.
Only for a short period did it look like the Premier League outfit could challenge Bayern and it took a real gaffe for the visitors to concede. I cannot see Jupp Heynckes' men shipping three goals at home, where they outscored the opposition 12-3 in the group stage, so they should comfortably progress.
The biggest surprise came in the guise of FC Schalke 04. Given they have struggled mightily in the league of late, and sacked coach Huub Stevens in December, for many the question ahead of the clash with Galatasaray AŞ was what would be the margin of defeat? In the end, they left Istanbul with a vital 1-1 draw and, in the eyes of many, a win would have been deserved.
Their run bears comparison with the campaign of 2010/11, when they finished 14th in the Bundesliga yet reached the semi-finals of this competition. That said, Galatasaray are a team more than capable of scoring in Gelsenkirchen, making this tie the most open of the three.
While the Spanish Liga has four clubs at this stage, Valencia CF, Málaga CF and even FC Barcelona lost their first-leg matches. Only Real Madrid CF managed to avoid defeat, though that may not be enough for them to avoid elimination at the hands of Manchester United FC.
The sole league which can claim to be competing with the Bundesliga is Serie A, whose two contenders registered convincing victories. It is very possible that all three German sides may advance, with hopes healthily intact ahead of the quarter-finals – ready for an assault on the trophy itself.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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