After the quarterfinals played out the second leg of their draws over the past two days, we now know which four clubs remain in the hunt to claim the crown as champion of Europe in 2016. Three of the four are among the usual suspects, while the fourth is a nouveau riche upstart finally looking to realize its potential and emerge from the shadow of its crosstown rival.
The one certainty is that Barcelona will not become the first club to successfully repeat as European champion in the 21st century, continuing a streak of early exits for defending champs that dates back to AC Milan’s star-studded teams of 1988-89 and 1989-90. After looking as though they had pulled the rug out from their opponents in the first leg, the last three core players for the blaugrana — Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Gerard Pique — will have to wait until next year to try to match the Real Madrid greats of the 1950s with a fifth individual title.
Instead we’ve got two teams Barcelona loves to hate, the Madrid rivals Real and Atletico, continuing to fly the Spanish flag in the competition. Barca also has to watch as a Bayern Munich team managed by their former captain and manager Pep Guardiola continues on, as does a Manchester City side that will be managed by Guardiola whether or not Manuel Pellegrini leads them to the promised land of the club’s first European crown.
Let’s look at how the second leg of the four quarterfinal duels played out and see what it might have to say about the fortunes of the advancing quartet. Flip through for a look at each of the four clubs that remain alive for the preeminent continental honors…
Real Madrid (3-2 aggregate v. VfL Wolfsburg)
After knocking off Real Madrid 2-0 at home last week, it looked like we might be seeing an ascendant new club knocking off Europe’s most historically victorious squad. Then Cristiano Ronaldo took charge, scoring twice in quick succession before finishing his hat trick with a decisive goal in the final 15 minutes. The three goals put Ronaldo at 93 career Champions League goals, making it likely that he’ll break 100 by next season’s tournament. At this point he can only continue to extend his lead over Messi, who is now stuck at 83 goals until next year.
More important than Ronaldo’s continued goalscoring bursts, however, was the fact that Keylor Navas recovered from his uncharacteristic outing in Germany and posted his eighth clean sheet in nine starts for Real in this season’s Champions League. Nobody would confuse this Madrid side for one of the defensive juggernauts of the tournament, but with the Costa Rican manning the net Real are able to lock down most opponents. And with firepower that extends to bench players the quality of James Rodriguez and Isco, Real will not be an underdog against any potential semifinal opponent.