That Champions League music will be missed...
I write this from Madrid, which should go a long way to explaining the title. Tonight, the Champions League quarter-finals get underway, without Real Madrid - the tournament's winners for the last three years and its most decorated club - or Atlético Madrid, whose ground is to host the final. Having had high hopes of being there, both are already out. Today and tomorrow, eight others will line up for that famous anthem: Barcelona, who are so near here yet so far away; four clubs from England (where they certainly need something to take their minds off Brexit); and Juventus, Ajax and Porto. As we used to say of the Ventas bullring in Madrid back when bullfighting was a big deal, the Champions League is the ultimate stage.
Though Madrid are no longer on it, we will at least see players who, despite being driven away by the weird and wonderful phobias of Florentino Pérez - the man whose giant tin of sardines is due to disfigure the Castellana - Madridistas have far from forgotten. There's Iker Casillas, who this evening goes to Anfield, where last term the Kop gave him an ovation in what was felt could be his final Champions League game. Thankfully, it wasn't. He now returns to the stadium for a record-extending 176th tournament appearance. There's also Pepe, who will miss out in Liverpool through suspension, but could play in the return. And of course Cristiano Ronaldo, who could make the first leg in Amsterdam and will surely be back in Turin.
After a European failure that had been on the cards, but was no less painful for it, those three are the last vestiges of Madrid in this year's competition. There will also be future Bernabéu stars, too, such as Éder Militao, who's still at Porto but has agreed to join - and who knows, possibly Paul Pogba. (He'll be the litmus test that'll tell us whether Zinedine Zidane's influence will extend beyond bumping his son up the goalkeeping pecking order.) But the fact is that, except on telly, we won't be hearing the Champions League music in Madrid until the final at the Wanda. Who knows who it'll be between. I'd like it to be Juve and Barça: Cristiano and Lionel Messi finally up against each other on the European game's big night.
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