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Arsenal, Barca bow out

Last year's UEFA Champions League finalists Arsenal and Barcelona are both out of the competition after being dispatched by PSV Eindhoven and Liverpool respectively.

Having lost the first leg by one goal to nil, Arsenal had to beat PSV by at least two goals and they would have been in the hat for the quarter-finals draw. With PSV securing a draw with seven minutes left on the clock and Arsenal now needing two goals to win or one to force extra time I could see that Arsenal's season was literally over after being knocked out in the FA Cup and languishing a distant fourth in the league. All Arsenal can do now is prepare for next season and at the same time hold on to fourth place.

Goals by Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise at the Nou Camp proved invaluable for Liverpool as they booked their place in the quarters thanks to the away goals rule. I think Barca blew it in the first leg where it looked too easy for them in the first half but could only score a solitary goal. Liverpool then came back in the second half and snatched the two away goals.

Valencia will now fly the Spanish flag as the only Spanish team left in the Champions League after a nil-all draw at home ensured progress on the away goals rule. Inter who are leading Serie A by sixteen points at the moment must be regretting the goal scored by David Silva with just three minutes remaining in the first leg. That goal proved decisive.

The other Spanish team Real Madrid bowed out after losing 2-1 to Bayern Munich. In a match between two teams not doing particularly well in their domestic leagues, Bayern came out tops especially with their home performance where Roy Mackaay scored a goal with less than fifteen seconds on the clock. After conceding such an early goal, and for a team seemingly low on confidence, it was obvious from then on that it was going to be Bayern's night. Ruud van Nistelrooy late penalty goal only meant a frantic finish and a more respectable loss on away goals for Real.

Only one goal was needed to separate AC Milan and Celtic and that goal was scored in extra time. This was the only match to go into extra time in this round. Celtic came as close as they could get and I think they can go out with their heads held high because they were so close to an upset but Milan's experience shown through in the end.

Another match that could have gone into extra time was the one between Chelsea and Porto but Michael Ballack, in a rare goal for Chelsea, made sure that that didn't happen. Chelsea were not at their best and especially in the first half but it looks like they drew so much from their experience to dump former winners Porto out of the competitition.

Lyon are also out after being bundled out by Roma. To me Lyon were easily the best team of the qualifying round but they could not find a goal against a Francesco Totti inspired Roma and therefore exit the competition at the first qualifying stage when I thought they could go as far as possible this time around.

Manchester United made sure that there would be no French team in the quarter finals by beating Lille 1-0 in both legs. Although Lille disputed the United goal from the first leg it was up to them to at least score twice at Old Trafford and win the tie but that they couldn't and will now have to watch from the sidelines.

Its hard to tell the favourite to win the competition at the moment. The first knockout qualifying stage was tight and you can tell with three ties being decided on goal difference, three by a one goal margin and the remaining two by a two goal margin. But I think for most of the teams going into the quarters, the most important thing is to be in the hat for the draw.

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For Arsenal in the EPL, there is still the third spot to play for. Rafa is more suited to playing in Europe than the EPL.

The bets are looking interesting, Arsenal, Barca, Lyon, Real all out. Apart from dominating in Holland, PSV havent done badly in Europe lately - Europe is all about the right strategy, especially the away matches, do well there and make it difficult for the travelling team to beat you at home, Liverpool and PSV, and to some extent Chelsea have mastered that.

In terms of strategies, its not the best performing teams that went through - its those that adapted better, which has a lot to do with experience, maturity and keeping a cool head. Im not surprised Chelsea, Man U, Roma, Bayern, Valencia are through. The technically gifted like Barca, Lyon and Arsenal are out.

So we are back to the old, boring, safety first, direct play, long ball, I will sit back and wait to catch you on the break play - looks there is something lacking in promoting individual skills in soccer today.

We are back to the last World Cup again - thats why we still like to play back old magic moments by Maradona, Platini, Hristo, Gascoigne, Gullit, van Basten long after they are gone, because of the lack of individual brilliance at the moment.

You are absolutely right mbareboy although you forgot to mention Porto. Porto can easily join the trio of Barca, Lyon and Arsenal. Porto are probably playing better football than they did with Mourinho but that type of football will not win you anything against cagey sides like Liverpool and Chelsea. But I would rather watch the fluent attacking football teams like Barca and Porto play than the ugly and sometimes dirty football some teams are now using to go through the UCL.

If you are looking for a favourite to lift the cup in Athens then you don't have to look much beyond Liverpool. Liverpool in Europe are a different kettle of fish and I reckon all the other seven teams are hoping they don't draw against us.

Mbareboy and Javier, that's a question of sour grapes guys. The teams who have made it through have adapted their football to succeed and your teams also need to do likewise and that is Liverpool's strength.

I agree, Victor, that Liverpool has adapted to success. But success comes in various forms - the essence of the argument is not on the end result but the means, and adapting to what and it depends on what fans pay to watch.

At the end of the day, the high levels of commercialisation of soccer are resulting in playing for results, thats what history records anywhere. Good luck Liverpool, but out of the remaining teams, Valencia has the best balance for me.

Yes Mbareboy, I agree with you absolutely about the commercialisation of football and especially in the Champions League but that doesn't give Liverpool an edge whatsover. Lets agree, every team is in it for the money that the Champions League generates and therefore you have to play to win and if winning means defending lets be it so but against Barcelona at times Liverpool were more of an attacking force than them. Cheers.

Victor, I have bad news for you. Unless somebody else knocks out Man U (and surely I cannot see who can do that) then Liverpool will not be able to pass Man U. Liverpool with their predictable football, sporadic attacks on the wings and heavily reliant on Gerrard have no chance against Man U be it in the premier league or Europe.

Well, Emma the draw says if we meet it will be in the final, so let us wait until then...

Thanks guys for the comments. Now that the draw has been made, Victor and Emma, Liverpool and Manchester United can only meet in the final which will be great if they do but PSV and Roma will have a lot to say about that.

Mbareboy, I think Valencia are playing very well at the moment and when I watched their match against Inter in the second leg I thought they really played attacking most of the time even though all they needed was nil-all draw. I think Valencia can send Chelsea packing especially after their unconvincing win over Porto.

I still can't see a real favourite though but lets wait and see what the quarters will bring us.

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