If you think the NBA and NHL playoffs take forever, consider the UEFA Champions League. This thing started on July 17, of LAST YEAR, with a 0-0 draw between Olimpi of Georgia (the country, not the United State of America), and Astana, of Kazakhstan. Very niiice.
Now, nearly 9 months later, the field has been winnowed down to 4 teams, and unbelievably, neither Olimpi nor Astana are one of them.
Let's take a look at the 4 that are.
The Reds, by virtue of making it to the semifinals, are one of the top 4 clubs in Europe. They are also actually in danger of not being one of the top 4 clubs in England. They've struggled in the Premier League this season, and are only 3 points ahead of Everton for 4th place. England's top 4 teams get invited to the Champions League, so ironically enough, Liverpool may need to win this year's Champions League just to get invited back into the next one.
Liverpool reached the semifinals by busting open a 2-2 tie game against Arsenal in the final 5 minutes. The first leg of the matchup resulted in a 1-1 tie at Arsenal, so with the aggregate at 3-3 and Arsenal with 2 away goals to Liverpool's 1, the Reds faced elimination until Gerrard's goal. Ryan Babel then salted it away in injury time, giving Liverpool the win on the 5-3 aggregate.
Having bested one English rival, Liverpool advances to face yet another one.
Chelsea is kind of like the New England Patriots, if the Patriots were funded by the Russian mafia. They are the nouveau riche of the soccer world, having stepped up their spending exponentially in the new century to separate themselves from the rest of the football riff raff. Of course, they are not the only club to do this, but since they are owned by the Russian mafia they tend to be criticized more than other clubs for doing this.
The Blues (English football teams have pretty shitty nicknames, Liverpool is "The Reds", Chelsea is "The Blues"), had their backs against the wall in the tournament after being stunned in the opening leg of their match against Turkish side Fenerbahce, 2-1. Deivid "Hulk" De Souza, number 99 in your programs but #1 in your hearts, made up for an earlier own goal by scoring the game winner in the 81st minute. The Yellow Canaries (now there's a nickname) could make themselves the George Mason of this tournament if only they could repeat this performance in the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Which, of course, they didn't. Michael Ballack's header put Chelsea ahead 4 minutes into the second leg, and Frank Lampard scored 83 minutes later to finish stuffing the Turks.
How many sports teams do you know of that have a 180 seat commercial airliner painted up in their colors with pictures of their players plastered on the sides? I only know of just this one, Manchester United. The Red Devils are owned by Malcom Glazer, who also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. A couple of years ago United fans were ready to burn down the observatory over having an American owner, now I guess they are learning to live with it, because they are in 1st place in the Premier League and have a shot at their first Champions League title since David Beckham and mates won it in 1999.
To get to the semifinals, United polished off a bunch of greaseballs from AS Roma who had shocked Real Madrid to advance to the quarters. Man U won the opening match 2-0 behind goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, who at this particular point on the space-time continuum is probably the best player in the world, and Wayne Rooney, who might be the best English player.
With a 2 goal lead built on away goals, it was a fait accompli that United would advance, and they did, winning the home match 1-0. United will face the only non-English team remaining next, a team led by a certain horse faced young man you may know very well.
Actually, Ronaldinho hasn't had a very good year this year, and he's probably not the best player on this team (that would be Argentine Lionel Messi). He is still the horse face of the franchise though.
Barca crushed the dreams of pale skinned, red nosed, belligerent Irish people everywhere when they knocked out Celtic in the round of 16, after the Glaswegian side threw a scare into them in the first leg of the matchup. They had a much easier time of it in the quarterfinals, when they pitched a pair of 1-0 shutouts at German side Schalke 04. Schalke 04's name reminds me a lot of "Scheisse" which is the German word for "shit", which is what the German Bundesliga generally is, so it's fitting that they were the last representative left alive from that league.
The Catalan side has won this thing as recently as 2006, when they defeated Arsenal in the final, but they aren't as good as they were then. This year, they are struggling to hold onto second place in La Liga, and will be heavy underdogs against Man U.
***LATE NOTE- This weekend it was announced that Ronaldinho has agreed to terms to play for AC Milan after this season. He will no longer be the horse face of the franchise.
The matchups start April 22. Yay!