And then there were 16
The Champions League starts it's business end
By Raisa Rafique
Before we start, let's take a moment to laugh at both Manchester clubs for being eliminated to the Europa League. Here's an overview of the fixtures that await in the round of 16.
Bayern Munich vs. Basel
Bayern might just be the team to beat this year. They traversed the Group of Death with a game in hand and finished top. Mario Gomes is banging in goals like a man possessed and with both Schweinsteiger and Robben returning against Basel, they have serious aces up their sleeves. But Basel are not to be taken lightly. Ask Manchester United who paid dearly at the hands of the Swiss. The team might be the surprise package this year but Bayern just might be too big a task for Basel.
Inter Milan vs. Marseille
Inter started the season with form that can only be described as crap. But since manager Gasperini was fired and Claudio Ranieri was brought in to fix the problems at the San Siro, they've come a long way. Indeed, they managed to top their group with a game to spare, which was good as they ended up losing their final match. Marseille have found life difficult this campaign, needing a stunning comeback in the last five minutes of their last game against Borussia Dortmund to make it. They need a change of fortunes soon. It's a tight one to call, but Inter will probably scrape through.
Benfica vs. Zenit
Two teams which are almost equal to each other. Benfica managed to navigate a group consisting of Manchester United and came out top. Zenit had to hold Porto to a goalless draw to make it through a tricky group. With players like Aimar and in-form Gaitan, who is the top provider in the competition, our bet is on Benfica.
Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow
The most mismatched tie in the round. Mighty Real Madrid, with its Galacticos, breezed through the groups with a 100% record. It's hard to find fault in the team with an attack that is plain scary. They lost the Clasico, but they're hungry for their tenth Champions League trophy and this could be their year. The Russians beat Inter to get here but Madrid are a different story. And facing them without talismans Honda and Akinfeev? God help them. Real through easily enough.
Chelsea vs. Napoli
Chelsea are charged with a difficult opposition in Napoli. They may possess the players to win on paper but their form has only recently started to pick up. It took a win against Valencia on the last day to send Chelsea through and they'll be worried, more so because of the looming departures of their African contingent for the African Cup of Nations. Napoli are no pushovers though. They got this far at the expense of big spending Man City and Villareal. They have a talented attack consisting of quality players, but the squad is already stretched thin. Chelsea to just about edge it.
Arsenal vs. AC Milan
Whatever happened to the 8-2, 4-3 and 2-1 jokes? Robin Van Persie happened. The Dutchman is in mind-blowingly sensational form. Dude can't stop scoring. Milan came off second best to Barcelona in the groups and while they have an attack Arsenal's defence should fear (Ibrahimovic, Pato, Robinho, Boateng), questions remain over an ageing defence and midfield. This is the biggest match of the group stages. Who's going through? No clue.
APOEL Nicosia vs. Lyon
Nobody cares. Simple as that. APOEL have had a fairytale run through a pretty tough group. Lyon has too much quality for the Cypriots.
Barcelona vs Bayer Leverkusen
Barca are getting boring. They won last year and the only thing that's changed is that the team is better with the inclusion of Fabregas. You'd be dumb to bet against them. In their path are humble Leverkusen. Leverkusen are very hit or miss. Could've finished top of the group had they beaten Genk but managed to beat Chelsea in the match before. Now they head to the dragon's lair and in all likelihood, their doom. But you never know in football. It wouldn't be the first time a modest Bundesliga team made everyone sit up and take notice.
Occasionally we get a few entries in BetaWriters that are totally insane. They make very little to no sense and yet seem wonderfully fitting. Kind of like a Dali painting. This is one such week. For next week, our topic will be: The Last Bell. You are free to interpret it anyway you wish. Submissions have to be sent in to email@example.com before Sunday noon. Word limit: 500 words. Good luck, folks.
By Sthitadhee Panthadas
The bogging sea of insomnia thermossed the eyes. The soporific stare was suffixed and prefixed on the words of the book. Each word started to exacerbate Milan's allergies for them. He finally slammed the book shut. The cover read 'Tales of Shakespeare'.
It was already eight o' clock. He could not make head or tail of it. Why? He had opened the book for the first time in his life. And tomorrow, he had his final exams on literature!
Totally clueless, he opened the book again and sang the rustling pages. The incandescent table lamp illuminated the words, which practically seemed Hebrew to him; and even his desiccated beetle eyes wilted in the winter's hue. There was a bitter feud going on between him and his burden.
He would have found some excuse to escape this hell. But how? Examination blues? Mom would definitely find out. Forget it! She wasn't naïve enough to believe him and fall for it.
It was time to take a break from the excruciating task. He closed the book and glanced at the clock; it was nine. He scampered to the basin and washed his face. However, he could not wipe out the tension from his “poignant visage”.
“I would kill myself,” cried Milan petulantly being a little melodramatic. “Oh, this pressure.”
“What the… I forgot about 'Hard Times'! Someone just stab me!”
He wiped his face dry with a towel.
“Ma coffee. No coffee!”
He ran to his desk. His wild eyes were hauntingly fixed on the pages. He felt he was squirming like an overturned cockroach. And there was no hope of being right ever again.
“Milan did you finish? It's already 11:30!” Mother sounded worried.
Milan was trying to take the bull by the horn, but it felt like he was setting the Thames on fire.
“What happened, Milan? Cat got your tongue?” Someone whispered.
No reply came from Milan. He was already in a merciful state of semi-narcosis.
“Milan!” shouted mom.
“I did not do it!” he exclaimed.
“What's wrong with you? If you are finished, go to bed, ok,” ordered mother.
He shut his book for the last time. He felt completely void. He was completely blank about the plays, let alone Hard Times. He fell on the bed and was lost in his subconscious, which had already started its journey to a dreamland of its own.
It was all too much.