Champions League semi-finals…Its make or break

The UEFA Champions League reaches its crucial stage this week with the four semi-finalists desperate to make it to the Wembley showpiece in May.

Schalke, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the four teams who have made it this far, and only the Germans Schalke are the surprise package. But the other three participants are regarded as the biggest clubs in world football and at this stage of the competition anything other than a place in the final is considered a failure by their high standards and by their own fans.

The English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga are already considered as the best two leagues in the world by some distance and a final to be contested by a team from either league looks increasingly likely. The last time a side from the respective leagues met in a Champions League final was in 2009, when Manchester United were comprehensively beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in Rome.

Once again it is Manchester United who are flying the flag for England and they are seen as the only team capable of stopping any of the two Spanish heavyweights from lifting the trophy on English soil.

Real Madrid, under Jose Mourinho, are a team to be feared and they arguably boast the best squad in the world. A team that can have a bench consisting of £65million man Kaka, Gonzalo Higuain and Emmanuel Adebayor are very strong indeed. After beating Barcelona in the Spanish cup final last week, Madrid are in confident mood and in Mourinho, they have a manager who knows a thing or two about lifting the Champions League.

Schalke’s passage to the last four is evidence of Germany’s Bundesliga emerging as one of the best leagues in Europe in recent years. Their mauling of holders Inter Milan in the quarter-finals shows that they won’t be a walkover but Manchester United’s experience of this competition should prove to be too strong for the German outfit and Wembley should have an English representative in the final.

The big semi-final clash is without doubt the clasico between Madrid and Barcelona. This is considered by many as the ‘final’ as the Spanish sides have been so dominant this season. Barca must respond to that defeat at the hands of Madrid in the Spanish cup final and will be a wounded animal and it proves to be a fascinating game, the third meeting between the teams in just 11 days.

Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney and Raul, which of these world class stars will grace the final at Wembley on May 28th?  This week’s first legs will go some way to deciding it.

By Tariq Saleh

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