Friday, April 8, 2011

Europa League Still Tops Champions League Competitively

Portugal could have 3 of the Final 4

One of my favorite topics is this esoteric argument of the Champions League vs. the Europa League. I've written before that while yes the talent and glamour of the Champions League outclasses the former UEFA Cup, I say the level of competition is better in the Europa League.

Now that we're one round in for the quarterfinals of each competition, I think it would be fun to analyze whether my theory is on point. Amazingly, the score lines of the two sets of four matches from each competition are almost equal; three blowouts in each and one tight match. In the Champions League, the semifinalists are essentially set and they're quite tasty: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Schalke. Lots of juicy storylines there.

The final four draw could pit the two Spaniards in a Classico for the ages. You could have Raul taking on the club where his heart, legacy and legend lives in Real Madrid. United against either of the Spanish teams pits two of Europe's top three against each other; Mourinho vs. SAF? Wow.

In the Europa League, the obvious story line is the Portuguese trio of Benfica, F.C. Porto and Braga still alive and in line to make up three-fourths of the final four. Ultimately, a Benfica-Porto final would be surreal. These two teams score goals by the bushel. They hate each other. Their fans hate each other. Porto is quickly displacing Benfica as Portugal's top team. Benfica's glory days are close to 50 years gone-by despite more than 30 domestic titles. Porto has won two European Cups and one UEFA Cup since Benfica last won anything continental. And then there's upstart Braga which is close to usurping Sporting as Portugal's third member of the country's Big 3. Braga got a positive result in Russia yesterday and is close to a semifinal date with Benfica. And then there's Villareal of Capdevilla and Jozy Altidore fame. They score in bunches too and will make for a great Portugal-Spain semifinal against Porto.

Clearly the winner here is: wait for it -- the fans of course. Granted the next leg of both competitions' quarterfinals are going to be dreadful lock-down affairs as the teams in front are going to put 11 behind the ball and play for survival's sake. Looking ahead, however, I'm going to stick with my premise that competitively, the Europa League is a better show right now.

The Champions League is absolutely the hot sexy chick in the room, but I bet we get more open, competitive games in the Europa League final four than we do from the Wednesday Wonderland of games!

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