It's no secret that many, including the author of these lines, are very critical of the Champions League - the ruthless capitalism of the big teams, the blow it deals to the clubs and players that never qualify for the competition, its contempt for the domestic leagues and its absolute drive for the money and ratings.
But there comes a time in the year when one must put all criticism aside, a time that begins, as a matter of fact, with the break (and last-16 draw) in the middle of December, and comes to final fruition at the end of the winter. After all, we do, first and foremost, love soccer. Give us Real Madrid against Juventus, Barcelona versus Chelsea, Manchester United head-to-head with AC Milan, and Arsenal locked in battle with Bayern Munich, and we will really stop moaning.
The quarterfinals may be even more of a treat; but for now, we have no complaints, and the side-orders aren't too bad either - Inter Milan takes on Porto, and Liverpool has a date with Bayer Leverkusen.
And it's all by knockout, without the nonsense of the group stage, and irrespective of the results of the corresponding games - the classic cup-tie system, and just the way we like it.
These games, these stages of the competition, and not the finals, produce the really big games. So if we have been served up such great evenings, how about the following efficiency suggestion for UEFA and Jacob Erel, director of Competitions Operations at European soccer's governing body and former chairman of the Israel Football Association? Yes, the group-stage games clearly have to be played at the same time; but why at the knockout stages, too? Even in the World Cup, this isn't the case. And each round of games is spread out over two days in any event. Instead of forcing the soccer fan to zap back and forth and perhaps miss the great goal that was just scored in the second game; instead of forcing us to rack our brains over the choice between Real vs. Juve and Arsenal against Bayern, or between United vs. Milan and Barca against Chelsea the next evening, why not give us a double-header, one game after the other, two days in a row - and then all over again two weeks later?
The ratings can only go up.
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