Champions League Round of 16 Starts Today
By Steve Kinkead
The UEFA Champions League moves beyond the group stages this week as the Round of 16 gets started. The top two teams in each of the eight groups have moved on to the knockout rounds. All rounds until the final are played over two games, and the winner is based on total aggregate score, away goals serving as tie-breaker. The 2013 final will be played on the pitch of historic Wembley Stadium in London on May 25.
The Round of 16 has several titans going head-to-head and some intriguing matchups. On Tuesday, February 12, Celtic of Glasgow hosts Juventis of Turin, Italy, and Valencia hosts Paris Saint-Germain. Celtic is definitely the underdog in their encounter, but they were able to pull off a major upset in the group stages defeating Barcelona at home so it would not be beyond their grasp to make life difficult for the Italians and even pull off an upset. Wednesday will see one of the premier matchups of this round as Real Madrid plays host to Manchester United and Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk is at home to Borussia Dortmund. Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid’s leading scorer and star, will face off against his old team for the first time when United comes to town and again in three weeks in Manchester. While United are cruising in the EPL, Madrid’s season in Spain’s La Liga has been difficult and, in typical Jose Mourinho fashion, tumultuous. The Madristas can salvage their season, though, if could hoist the Champions League trophy in May.
Next week will see the remaining first leg games in this round. Tuesday’s games have Arsenal hosting Bayern Munich in London and Portugal’s FC Porto hosting Spain’s Malaga. Arsenal have struggled in the EPL this season and Bayern are cruising through the Bundesliga with a 15 point advantage at the top. On Wednesday, German side Schalke 04 heads to Istanbul to take on Galatasary and another classic matchup has Barcelona travelling to AC Milan to face the perennial Italian contenders. Galatasary sit atop the Turkish League table while Schalke have had a poor season in Germany, and the game in Istanbul will be a major event for the home side. At the San Siro in Milan, Barcelona will face the mercurial Mario Balotelli, who was just signed in the January transfer window. Barca has been riding atop La Liga’s standings since the start of the season and look to carry their form through the Champions League.
Return trips for each matchup take place three weeks from the first game, with the game days reversed.