KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Europe’s top eight football club are about to boldly go where no team has gone before in the Champions League.
A ‘final eight’ star trek is being staged in Portugal by European federation UEFA to wrap up an extended 2019-20 season battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
UEFA’s solution is a single-match knock-out tournament, featuring quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in the Benfica and Sporting stadia in Lisbon. Kick-off is on Wednesday and the final is on August 23.
In the shadow of the Champions League so the final stages of the UEFA Europa League will be played out in similar fashion in Germany.
The Champions League was tidied up last week when Manchester City, Lyon, Bayern Munich and Barcelona completed their second round ties some five months after playing out the first legs. City face Lyon on Saturday while Bayern play Barcelona on Friday.
Both clubs have been labelled favourites but they cannot meet in the final: the pair are on the same side of the draw.
The ‘other’ side offers an opportunity for Paris Saint-Germain to reward the multi-million-euro of their Qatari owners and become the first French club to win Europe’s top club prize since Marseille’s bribery-tarnished victory in 1993.
PSG start the party against Atalanta on Wednesday with the winners contesting a semi-final against RB Leipzig or Atletico Madrid who meet on Thursday.
Intriguing, only two of the final eight have won the Champions League cup before: Bayern on five occasions but not since 2013 and Barcelona who recorded the most recent of their own quintet two years later.
Can City finally realise the dream which has driven their Abu Dhabi owners since taking over in 2008?
Can 14-goal Robert Lewandowski erase Cristiano Ronaldo’s 17-goal single-season record in propelling Bayern to glory?
Can Lyon repeat, against City, the giant-killing form which overthrew Ronaldo’s Juventus?
Can Leo Messi’s magic make European amends for Barcelona’s LaLiga fade-out?
The terrible twist of pandemic fate, of course, is that no fans will be in any of the stadia to witness an unwanted slice of European club football being created.