Itching for an upset

A few Chelsea fans got in touch in the week to ask why I had not mentioned their important 1-0 win away to Portuguese side Benfica in the Uefa Champions League quarter-final first leg in my previous entry. The thinking was that because of the problems with my Liverpool, I had decided to avoid discussing events in Europe and resorted to seeking refuge at home. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The truth is that my failure to talk about the Champions League was inadvertent. I was just carried away by the farcical way the football authorities here handled Luka Milanzi’s issue in particular, but also player transfers and vetting in general. In the process, I found myself dwelling on that matter much more than I had set out to proceed.

Otherwise, just like I was in the victory over Napoli, I was happy for the Blues seeing that they have made the semi-finals after a home victory that was far from straightforward. Benfica proved a tough opponent who kept their record of scoring in every away match in this year’s Champions League campaign. They were a constant threat throughout even after going down to 10 men.

But all that does not matter now. It is Chelsea who have earned the right to meet Barcelona in the hope of seeking justice after they were robbed victory by some dubious refereeing when the teams last met in the competition. Memories are fresh of Andres Iniesta’s late heart-breaker after the Blues were denied what looked like obvious calls earlier in the game.

In terms of current form and class, Barcelona will go into this grudge tie as overwhelming favourites, but although I always enjoy watching the Catalan giants and have a soft spot for them, nothing is guaranteed for them and Chelsea have to face this encounter with the belief that they can achieve a positive result and proceed to another final if not win the title.

It will be foolhardy for Chelsea to plan to match Barcelona’s strategy. Pep Guardiola’s men are the most difficult sides to play against as they will always dominate possession, but they are far from invincible. Teams of different pedigrees have managed to come up with tactics that have nullified their threat and get one over them. It will be an uphill task, but football has witnessed more improbable results than this.

The other semi-final tie promises to be even more exciting as it pitches two sides with a good record of winning the tournament. Real Madrid still hold the record for winning the European title and have their best chance now to extend that record. They are, therefore, slight favourites in their tie against German giants Bayern Munich in the other semi-final.

While Jose Mourinho’s side can sniff glory, they will be aware that in the Bavarian giants, they will face a very stern test and they cannot take their progression to the finals for granted. On their day, Bayern Munich can be as good as it gets and in Mario Gomez they have one of the most prolific strikers in the game at the moment who is ably supported by the dual threat on the flanks from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.

Many pundits have gone the easy way by predicting a Barcelona-Real Madrid final in Bayern’s Allianz Arena and I can see why. But football would not have been called the beautiful game if it were that straight forward and logical. I am crossing my fingers for an upset somewhere. This game thrives in tearing the script.

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