It’s probably the draw that all of Spain was hoping for. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been kept apart in the semi-final draw, meaning that the great grudge match that divides particularly the regions of Castille and Catalunya, but also broadly the whole country, is still a possibility. Perhaps the greater contest in prospect however is the confrontation of the two best players of the generation. With Leo Messi on one side and Christiano Ronaldo on the other, should both of the Spanish giants progress to the Wembley final, a stage worthy of the contest will be laid out and waiting. The prospect is tempting to contemplate, but with Bayern and Dortmund as the opposition, nothing should be taken for granted.
Real face the team from North Rhine-Westphalia, and arguably have the slightly lesser task, but taking Dortmund for granted could be a fatal mistake. With a team led by the ‘flavour of the moment’ striker Robert Lewandowski, there’s no doubt that the German team have goals in them. The resolve displayed to turn around an apparently lost cause against Malaga in the previous round also demonstrates that Dortmund do not lack self-belief. That said, it would be a surprise if Madrid fail to progress. Aside from the irrepressible Ronaldo, ably supported by Di Maria, Higuain, Benzema, et al, they also have Mourinho at the helm, together with his desire to add a third Champions’ League winner’s medal to add to his hoard – making him the first manager to do so with three different clubs. Madrid getting to the final just seems to be written.
Barcelona face a much stiffer test against the Bavarians of Bayern. Tested to the extremes by PSG, Bayern will raise the bar a further notch or two. Having already wrapped up the Bundesliga title – and ironically with ex Barca manager Pep Guardiola watching from the wings, waiting to pick up the reins for next season – Bayern Munich have reached this stage of the competition impressively. They dismissed the Serie A leaders, Juve, with apparent comfort in the previous round, and arrive full of bustling confidence. Barca will be glad to hopefully have the ace of mercurial Messi back to full fitness and ready to play, as they will probably need every card in the deck to deal with Bayern successfully. I think the deciding factor of this game could hinge on one moment of magic or madness. It’ll be a paper thin margin that decides the tie in which goals may well be the rarest of commodities, with the Catalans, just edging it, perhaps after extra-time and may be even penalties.
And so, to Wembley. If both Spanish teams prevail, and I freely confess that the romantic football fan in me hopes that they do, it’s a mouth-watering prospect to see these two players, so very different in their qualities, but so very similar in worth to their teams, face off at the home of football. Truly great Champions’ League finals are few and far between – Chelsea last year had drama and an unreal sense of kismet, United in 1999 for the dramatic denouement. So often the fear of defeat chokes the desire to wing. This wouldn’t be the case in a Barca-Real final. With both Messi and Ronaldo keen to strut their stuff on the biggest stage in club football, it should be a game to savour.