Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Champions League Group Stage - The Final Days

If you'd like a preview of many of the players who'll be featuring in South Africa in the summer of 2010, today and Wednesday provides a chance to see many of those key players.

This would be the last matchday for the UEFA Champions League group stage, with a number of spots in the knockout stage still up for grabs.

First, in group A, one of the big boys of Europe will be out of the Champions League as Bayern Munich visit Turin to face the Old Lady. Juventus is coming off a nice victory over Serie A leaders Inter over the weekend. It wasn't a dominating performance by any means, but Juve seemed to have grasped the importance of that match and played with the sort of motivation and determination that they need to sustain regularly if they are to challenge for any trophies.

Bayern on the other hand are unbeaten since Sept. 26, though you'd never really know that. They were expected to romp through the Bundesliga, but that hasn't been the case. And yet, even though they've been known for up and down play this season they could be gaining steam as they climb up the German table.

This match pits a number of future World Cup participants from a number of nations, but does that mean the match will be entertaining? I'm not so sure. These are two of the more inconsistent sides, both capable of playing attacking football, but Juve sometimes reverts to a more calculated approach, while Bayern have had some fitness issues to stars Ribery (out for today) and Robben, along with disgruntled Luca Toni out of favor.

An interesting match to keep an eye on will be Man U visiting Wolfsburg. Man U has played well recently, crushing West Ham on Saturday, but are in the midst of an absurd defensive crisis. The starting center backs are likely to be Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick, with Darren Fletcher also a possibility. Edin Dzeko and the Wolfsburg goal scoring machine will certainly look to take advantage of that as they look to ensure passage at the expense of CSKA Moscow (they need to simply equal the efforts of the Russians to advance with Man U).

Of the other big name teams, no one in group C is guaranteed through, though Real Madrid only need a point against Marseille, while AC Milan will be hoping to lock things up against FC Zurich.

The Inter-Barcelona group also has it all to play for, with the unlikely but still actual possibility that Inter and Barca could be knocked out in favor of Russian champs Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev.

Let's face it, most everyone is rooting for the big teams because we want to see the big name players face off in the knockout draw. But is there an underdog poised for an upset? The knockout stages could actually be populated with teams from France and Eastern Europe, as well as German sides that are strong but not as fancied as the English and Spanish sides. I think that would make for a very interesting Champions League, and it would give some players a chance to shine prior to the World Cup that we might not otherwise see. Of course that hope just means that it's going to end up business as usual (Liverpool's early exit not withstanding).

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