Discussion Starter · #1 ·
For the first time in the history of the Champions League, four teams from the same country have made it into the last eight. This is no fluke, for even last season, there were three semi-finalists from England - something that could well happen once again.
The top four in the Premier League most certainly seem to be doing England proud, even though there are those who complain about the lack of English presence in those teams.
Even at their best, Spain and Italy could only contribute three to the last eight, and the question has to be asked: are the top four in England beginning to set the standards? Or maybe more importantly - is this the beginning of another era of English dominance in Europe, as was the case pre-Heysel, when Liverpool, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest won seven European Cups in eight seasons.
Much of the excitement in the quarter-finals also involves the English teams. Arsenal’s luck in the draw will only please the neutrals as the clash against the Merseyside Champions League veterans came out of the pot.
Of the English quartet Chelsea will be the most happy, having drawn Fenerbahce, who on paper perhaps seem the weakest side left. However, Rick Parry of Liverpool revealed his relief at the fact that "at least we don’t have to go to Turkey." Whether this was a reference to the distances to travel or a fear of the Turkish dark horses was unclear.
It was also acknowledged by Parry that drawing an English side was bad luck, with the intriguing situation that the English four are looking some of the most competitive and strongest teams at the moment.
As far as the English media goes, the qualification of the four sides in such competent fashion has prompted a clamour about the dominance of the Premier League in continental football. Alex Ferguson, speaking before the draw, proclaimed that ‘the English league is the strongest in Europe’.
Even more telling than a Scot extolling the virtues of the English league was Kaka’s statement: "You can say that the Premier League is not only the best for this season but for what its teams have done over the last few years’." Soon after the draw in Nyon, a visibly relieved Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona's director of sport, also hailed the Premier League as "undoubtedly the strongest league in Europe."
You can blame the Englishmen once in a while for getting carried away, but when praise begins to come from those in the continent - there is most certainly some fire beneath all the smoke.
The fact of the matter is that seven quarter-finalists in two seasons and most possibly six out of eight semi-finalists over the same period is a feat not worth ignoring, even if Serie A and La Liga loyalists may attempt to shoot it down.
Manchester United - the English team in the other half of the draw - will not be unhappy with their draw of Roma, whom they beat in emphatic style in last year’s competition. That said, the feisty reception the Red Devils' fans received in Rome last time round will worry some.
If they are to beat the Italian side they will have play either Schalke or, more likely, Barcelona, a prospect that will have the mouths of fans the world over watering.
Meanwhile the winners of the all-English tie face either Chelsea or Fenerbahce. Chelsea and Liverpool have a habit of drawing each other in the knock out phases of cups. The Blues have, interestingly enough, often come off worse - unlike in the Premirship - and would be eager to seek revenge.
That said, Arsenal will be fancied over their Premier League rivals, but the Merseyside club have an enviable reputation in the competition, and so does their current manager Rafa Benitez, whose league performance has been disappointing to say the least: Europe is his big chance.
It's going to be an intriguing triple-header, too: the teams also meet in the league in the same week, so the sides will have plenty of opportunities to ‘get to know each other’.
This could be seen as the year the Premier League came of age, announcing itself to the rest of Europe as truly the strongest league on the planet. An all-English final would be the culmination of a true renaissance for the game in its country of origin.
Amid all the criticism directed at this country's football - some justified, some not quite - some of the great positives get forgotten, or deliberately ignored. Surely some credit is due.