Arun Pradeep is a sports journalist who has covered international cricket and tennis events. A keen follower of European football and enthusiastic blogger, he has written extensively on the sport for the New Indian Express. His biggest dream is to see AC Milan play Newcastle United in the Champions League final with both teams sharing the trophy. Against better judgement and despite nebulous prospects, Arun firmly believes a writer's life is the best there is, even if his mom ends up footing the bills, as she often does.
A livid Jerome Boateng jumped and down at the Allianz Arena like Rumpelstiltskin. He turned around at his team-mates and cursed at no one in particular. Jeffrey Bruma, the centre-back owned by Chelsea who is on loan at Hamburg SV, had just soared above the Bayern Munich players marking him and crashed a header into Manuel Neuer's inviting goal.
Bruma's goal should not have mattered to Boateng, a defender who plays for Bayern. The goal was Hamburg's first after the eight already scored by Bayern on the evening. The match was 75 minutes old and there was just a quarter of an hour to go. One more goal for Bayern, Boateng must have thought, and they would've scored a goal for every ten minutes of the match. 90 minutes, nine goals. With a clean sheet to boot. And now Bruma had spoiled it all.
"In recent weeks we have shown we are human. I can understand that. But now," said Matthias Sammer, Bayern's Director of Sport, "we want to be machines". Speaking ahead of his side's Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Juventus, Sammer looked back to the 9-2 hammering of Hamburg, in which Bayern had conceded two late goals. The German club had managed to score a ninth, but the two goals conceded had taken some of the gloss off an extraordinary performance.
"This should not happen to us if possible," Sammer said. It didn't against Juventus.
Champions of Italy and nine points clear at the top of the Serie A standings, Juventus were a pale shadow of their dominant domestic version against Bayern and were lucky to leave Munich with a 0-2 defeat. The German side, who can wrap up the Bundesliga title this week with a win at Eintracht Frankfurt, created so many clear-cut scoring chances they could have effectively sealed qualification for the semifinal in the first leg.
After taking the lead 30 seconds into the match - Gianluigi Buffon, the Juventus goalkeeper, being caught out by a deflected strike from Bayern left-back David Alaba from the edge of the 18-yard box - the Germans had the run of the field. Their defensive midfield duo of Luis Gustavo and Bastian Schweinsteiger dismantled every Juventus attack initiated by Andrea Pirlo and his fellow midfield schemers, while Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller brought thunder down the wings. If only Arjen Robben had converted the two gilt-edged chances he had, the tie would be over by now. But Juventus lived to fight another day - at a price.
The Italians will miss their midfield duo of Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichsteiner in the return leg in Turin, as both will be suspended after accumulating yellow cards. However, they will be hopeful of fielding Mirko Vucinic from the start, after the Montenegrin was benched in the first leg as he was suffering from flu. Playing the final 25 minutes against Bayern, Vucinic caused trouble among the German ranks with his tracking back and link-up play.
But however hard you may work, you cannot beat a more gifted opponent unless your teammates back you up, as Didier Drogba discovered against Real Madrid.
Despite still working his way to full fitness, Drogba typically gave an all-or-nothing performance for his new club, Galatasaray, against Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. Starved of service up front due to a sleepwalking performance by Wesley Sneijder behind him in midfield and the intense pressing of Real's defensive midfielders, Drogba readily tracked back well up the pitch to try and win the ball and launch offensive moves.
But the huge gap in class between the teams ultimately showed, with Real strolling to an easy 3-0 win. The Spanish champions will miss Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso in the second leg after they both picked up yellow cards, but Real already have one foot in the semifinal.
Galatasaray were denied a soft penalty in Madrid, but their coach Fatih Terim will have to get over any lingering bitterness and field an attacking line-up in the second leg, if his side are to overturn the three-goal deficit. He'd do well to breath some life into a lead-footed Sneijder, who went AWOL against Real and was substituted at half-time. Sneijder's task was not made any easier by an indifferent performance from Felipe Melo who, as defensive midfielder, abjectly failed to check Real's offensive moves and protect Sneijder when he tried to initiate some on his own.
In the two other Champions League quarterfinals, Barcelona were held to a 2-2 draw by a streaky Paris Saint-Germain in France, while Malaga managed to deny a precious away goal to Borussia Dortmund in a 0-0 stalemate.
In the return leg that will roll around in a week's time, Juventus have promised that fans will see the version of the team that has been hailed as the second-best in Europe after Barcelona. Anything less, and fans will be jumping up and down demanding explanations.