Tomorrow is the first match day of the UEFA Champion’s League knock-out stage (live on ESPN2 @ 11:30am Pacific, with other matches rebroadcast on Setanta later in the day). There are sixteen elite teams left and some phenomenal ties. It’s a great format: they play a two match home and away series, with the winner determined by aggregate goals and the tie-breaker being away goals. It is hard to produce a single fluke result and get through — the quality teams tend to do well in this format because they are heavily rewarded if they can score goals on the road.
Among the great games tomorrow (and the one ESPN is televising here) is Inter-Milan vs. Manchester United, the current leaders of the Italian and English leagues, respectively. They are two of the best teams in, arguably, two of the most competitive leagues in Europe. Manchester United won the Champion’s League last year, beating England rivals Chelsea in a shootout in Moscow. Inter is coached by last-year’s Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho, who got turfed by his Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovitch, in the middle of last season’s Champion’s League knockout stage.
On Wednesday, the marquee match is probably Real Madrid vs. Liverpool, the current second-place teams in Spain and England. Madrid won the Champion’s League in ’02, Liverpool won in ’05. But ESPN is broadcasting Chelsea vs. Juventus, which should also be a great match. Chelsea is currently third in England and Juventus is second in Italy. There’s managerial drama here, too: the Juventus coach is Claudio Ranieri, who used to coach Chelsea; Chelsea is coached by current Russian national team manager Guus Hiddink, who stepped in last week after Abramovitch fired Big Phil Scolari (detect a pattern here?).