Thrilling road to Lisbon

JOHANNESBURG - It has been an enthralling road to Lisbon in the European Champions League with only the cream of the crop heading into the last four.

You don’t reach the penultimate stage of the world’s biggest club competition unless you have the pedigree and stamina to withstand the pressure.

What we have seen in the European Champions League has been nothing short of exhilarating soccer.

While Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and to a large extend, Chelsea, have always been in the mix and considered among the giants in world football, the same cannot be said of Atletico Madrid who one must say, are breaking new ground.

Running a club with a modest budget compared to the other three, coach Diego Simeone is fast gaining a reputation as a coach to watch. Born in 1970 in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian has defied odds and Atletico’s astonishing run has had critics eating the proverbial humble pie – both at home and in Europe.

Atletico lead the Spanish League championship, ahead of giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. They are playing some of the most swashbuckling football ever seen and if this squad stays together, can easily dominate Europe.

But we all know what usually happens to good players from smaller teams; as was the case with Borussia Dortmund.

While it is Simeone who has stunned the football world with his unassuming side, the Champions League has again evoked growing debate on who is the shrewdest tactician between Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho and Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola.

Many thought Chelsea were dead and buried having lost 3-1 at Paris St German. But the solitary strike away from home in the first leg proved the difference between being knocked out and eyeing another European title which is owner Roman Abromevich’s prized love.

Very few can doubt Mourinho’s tactical acumen but on Tuesday, he took it to the next level as he orchestrated the French champions’ sensational exit from Europe’s greatest club competition.

Guardiola on the other end has proven that his swaggering type of football he introduced at Barcelona was not a once off approach.

Despite not convincing in the first half of their second leg against Manchester United, Bayern responded in true champions’ style to dismantle a stubborn and rejuvenated Man U side in scintillating fashion.

Chelsea and Bayern have completely contrasting playing styles but there is no doubt that the two clubs’ managers take some beating when it comes to polished strategies.

Not that the other team Real Madrid has a nonentity on the bench. No!

Carlo Ancelotti is also a master tactician. He is a veteran of several battles and will not throw in the towel without giving it a go.

In Cristiano Ronaldo, he has a single match winner who can change the course of the game with a single touch of brilliance.

As the Champions League heads towards the home stretch, the battles are becoming more intriguing with the world’s best trying to outwit each other.

As we await the semi-final clashes and who will eventually head to Lisbon, we all are wondering; who will win this one?

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