Thursday, August 28, 2008

Champions League Draw Today:
Quirks and Qualms

There's something inherently wrong with a club getting into the Champions League group stage by the thinnest of margins and still earning an overall No. 3 seed and be placed in Pot 1 for the draw today.

Seriously, Liverpool is a couple of Pepe Reina saves away from playing in the UEFA Cup, and they're in the top pot for the draw along with Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Inter, Lyon and Real Madrid. OK, is Liverpool among the top 8 clubs in Europe? Probably, but is that the fairest way to handle this draw?

Look at Pot 2. FC Porto actually won its country's championship. Sames goes for Bayern Munich and way down in Pot 3 we find Scottish champions Celtic. If you go by UEFA's stupid coefficient--yes I understand that's how these teams are seeded for the draw--Celtic is 22nd (Porto 13th, Bayern 9th). Handicapping what is essentially a rigged draw makes this a bigger joke than it is.

The lack of transparency here is abominable. No one can clearly explain the equations behind the coefficient. No one can explain how Sporting is in the Top 15--love 'em, but c'mon. What was the point of automatic qualification for some of these teams that aren't seeded in the top 16 (hello, Celtic, Zenit St. Petersburg, Cluj and Bordeaux)? Shouldn't there be more of a reward for getting in without the hassle of the third round qualifiers?

As for the always-dubious draw, we know if there was a way to rig Inter and Chelsea in the same group, it would be done. That said, they're going to meet in the knockout round--make bank on it. We may not get a Manchester United, Roma pairing in the group stage again, but doesn't Bayern Munich and United together sound juicy? Almost as much as Liverpool-Roma; UEFA is not above a morbid 1985-redux storyline.

I'm naturally cynical, and it probably shows here, but come draw time this afternoon, I bet I'll be closer to correct than off the mark.

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