March madness of a different sort in underway in Europe as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) held the quarter-final draws for the Champions League and Europa League on Friday (March 16).
Current champion Barcelona continues its quest to become the first team to win back-to-back titles in the Champions League (CL) era. The competition was known as the European Cup prior to 1992. Barcelona plays AC Milan, ironically enough the last team to win consecutive championships when it held the European Cup in 1989 and 1990. The first game of the two-leg quarter-final match-up goes March 28 in Italy, with the return leg in Spain on April 3.
Another quarter-final match takes nine-time winner Real Madrid to Cyprus to face APOEL on March 27 in the first game before returning home for the second game on April 4. This is uncharted territory for the Cypriot side, which has never made it this far in CL play.
Portugal’s Benfica will host Chelsea on March 27 and head for England a week later, for a game in London on April 4. Benfica is a two-time European Cup winner, while Chelsea is seeking its first title in the competition.
The final quarter-final match has Olympique de Marseille facing Bayern Munich, on March 28 and April 3, for the right to advance in the Champions League. Making it to the semi-finals would take on even great significance for the German team as it would bring them a step closer to playing for the title at home, in Munich. Bayern has won this competition four times, three European Cups and one CL crown, and Marseille won the Champions League in 1993.
The semi-final round will pit the winners of the Barcelona-Milan duel against either Benfica or Chelsea on April 18 and 24, while either Real Madrid or APOEL will take on either Bayern Munich or Marseille on April 17 and 25. The Champions League final will be played May 19 in Munich.
Spain and Germany will figure prominently in Europa League as the competition heads toward the final. The quarter-final round has AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) taking on Valencia (Spain), Schalke 04 (Germany) facing Athletic Bilbao (Spain), Sporting (Portugal) going against Metalist (Ukraine) and Atletico Madrid (Spain) taking on Hannover 96 (Germany). The two-leg quarter finals will be played March 28 and April 5.
The semi finals, on April 19 and 26, will match the winners of the Hannover-Atletico match against either Alkmaar or Valencia, while the winners of Schalke-Athletic and Sporting-Metalist will face each other for a chance to play in Europa League championship game in Bucharest on May 9.